Social Media as the Great Digital Moonlight Play – Mike Ekunno | Essay

 

Before the coming of the Internet, as an African, the only thing that foreshadowed the net’s socialising mission was the moonlight night play.

The moonlight play has since been confined to history by television and city life where consanguinity no longer determines who lives in the neighbourhood.

But while the moonlight play lasted, African hillbillies (and I mark myself safe here) enjoyed the many qualities it shared with its modern day equivalent – social media.

The atmosphere was always convivial with social inhibitions broken down by the mingling it afforded across lines of gender, class, and age – just like social media. It also provided a major vehicle of socialisation through the moonlight fables, riddles and jokes, proverbs and dances.

The dissimilarities between the African moonlight night and social media are nonetheless striking.

While the moonlight play happened in physical spaces on the few days of moonlight monthly, social media is a virtual platform and going on all the time.

Concomitant to the latter is the worldwide reach of social media unlike the time-and-space-bound nature of the moonlight night. Social media is therefore the true empire on which the sun never sets – a global agora.

Like its pristine African natural equivalent, social media sets out to banish grumpiness. The first word in its compound name avows that which explain the absence of the ‘Hate’ icon on Zuckerberg’s Facebook and other social media platforms.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same, which is why social media has turned out the dump of psychos and the conflicted.

There are the celebrities and wannabe-celebs; the ‘notice me’ attention-craving, needy, approval junkies; the snob, the passive-aggressive; the foreign legion; the happy-go-lucky; the monitoring spirit; the imperial headmaster and the ethno-religious bigot.

 

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Apparently, depressed folk manage to stamp their condition on their social media handles and friends’ posts. This leads me to attempt an amateur taxonomy of social media types.

The first group on my radar is the social media celebrity. You know the celeb by the number of people following her on Instagram and the likes and length of the comments thread on her Facebook posts.

It is no coincidence that the female pronoun is being used for the celeb because the archetypal one is likely to be a ‘she’. Not that there are no male social media celebs. Even for the male celeb, it is the size of his ‘harem’ on the comments thread that defines him. So, either way, social media celebrity is mostly a feminine, if not female thing.

Most foreign social media celebrities are those who have transferred their real-life celebrity statuses in film, music, reality TV, or sport to social media.

These garner automatic followers and can boast like Beyonce of not following anyone while being followed by millions on Instagram – the followed loner!

But the typical Naija social media celeb has earned her pips online through a combination of beauty, gumption and a dash of cheekiness. Being chic and cheeky appear like the trademarks of a particular type from east of the Niger.

She is liberated and unhinged and draws the guys out like bees after honey. Her unabashed pictures and ribald posts give the guys a sensual kick and something to be tickled about.

The social media celebrity packs a lot of ‘shine-shine’ value but little depth. But don’t dismiss the anti-depressant value of all those inanities and glam.

There’s also the wannabe-celeb as a sub-species. The wannabe-celeb is the more problematic for being neither a celebrity nor a plebian. How you get to know them is by how they never like or comment on your post. You begin to wonder whether the algorithms never allow them see your posts. If so, why do you see theirs and often respond?

You are ready to give them the benefit of the doubt before you notice that the same taciturn friend is so effusive on a mutual friend’s timeline. It dawns on you that they just feel entitled to your likes while not besotted to you.

The reason may be that the mutual friend is viewed as a better ‘mugu’ than you. It’s all about the ‘job’, if you know what I mean because there’s a subconscious calculation of everyone’s value by the venal and mercenary minded.

The snob has some of the wannabe-celeb’s motivations. They’re united in their benign snub of your posts. The snob probably knows you in real life and cannot deal with your guts. Some snobs are so on grounds of their seniority in one area of life – age, marriage, office position etc.

They forget that social media is supposed to be a leveller where you hang your ego at home before participation. Zuckerberg who owns the playground is himself only a ‘boy’. Wherefore does a mere co-player ‘form’ elder?

The notice-me, attention-craving junkie is easy to spot. She posts regularly but an objectivity analysis of her posts shows a predilection for the self. It’s always about herself – selfies, weddings/church attendance, meals full of meat, her children, the glitz and glamour of her life.

 

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While these are not wrong in themselves, there’s something about never sharing what may benefit others – a motivational quote, picture of flowers/setting sun, how you went to apologise for a hurt to someone, etc.

I had one such friend. Her first time at a gym where I held membership for over two years came out in eye-popping videos and pictures the next day on her timeline. After that I never saw her again at the gym.

Pardon me, but my random analysis of the notice-me type shows the presence of some trauma in the past. Mostly it’s about a difficult childhood or failed marriage. These need pity instead of resentment.

There is also the foreign legion as a legit social media group. These are diaspora Nigerians mostly living in the western hemisphere.  They are the generation who started out in Nigeria before emigrating.

They are found in respectable jobs in Europe and North America and many share the common distinction of having practised in Nigeria’s media space before emigrating.

This group is distinguished by its uncensored interventions. They give voice to home-based thoughts squelched by cowardice (aka I no wan die/ lose my job) and Nigerian duplicity.

In the run up to the next presidential election, members of this group pull no punches in their interventions.  The leading lights of this group include Prof Farouk Kperogi,  Adunni Adelakun, Rose P Graham not to forget the late Prof Adesanmi.

The question then arises as to why these purveyors of candour and rationality are able to be so outspoken on national issues without bowing to primordial sentiments whereas their home-based colleagues are so consumed with bigotry?

The answer would not be far-fetched from the refining effects of environment. If these argonauts could wean themselves of the maladies of ethno-religious bigotry in which their home-bound colleagues are steeped, it must speak to the health of their foreign environments and to the morbidity of ours.

The vocal segment of this foreign legion hides the generality of the group who do not have the luxury of playing social media because they have to lie low as illegal immigrants. Nigeria would need all the screaming it can get from its diaspora in the quest for social, political, and economic sanity.

Whatever be its downside, social media is a great socialising agent. If you’re docile, it has many teachable moments on a daily basis.

For Nigerians in need of cultural literacy of other Nigerian cultures, social media provides an unrivalled school.

TikTok’s memes and skits are sure-fire ways to cure the self-conscious or shy of their malady without visiting a psychoanalyst. The viral video clips have been the wings on which many music numbers like Jerusalema and now, Buga, flew to worldwide recognition.

With the failure of many state institutions in Nigeria, social media is coming to the rescue as enabler and catalyst to ginger the authorities to action whether it be to give justice to victims stripped naked and flogged by their accusers or to lampoon bribe-taking public officers in the court of public opinion when the regular economic crime prosecutors remain dubiously silent.

The 2023 presidential election is currently being framed by social media followers of the different candidates shaping perceptions and deepening brands.

 

 

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