October 4, 2022

Web 2.0, cancel culture and lessons for the governance we desire – Vanguard

  • November 10, 2021
  • 6 min read
Web 2.0, cancel culture and lessons for the governance we desire – Vanguard

The Latin aphorism, “scientia potential est”, meaning, “knowledge is power” is a common expression. Often attributed to the English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, this phrase holds the key to understanding why freedom of information is arguably the most feared thing by those who enjoy power today.
It is my argument that the resistance against widespread adoption of Web 2.0 follows from the perception that the internet has evolved to decentre information flow and distribute power in ways that challenge status quos, whatever they are.
If the younger generation is to reawaken the supremacy of accountability in our society, the possibilities reside in Web 2.0, and it should be encouraged.
Web 2.0 refers to the variety of applications and websites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc.) that allow for user-generated content online. With Web 2.0, everything and everyone is increasingly becoming unhidden from scrutiny. Information has become ubiquitous. From politics, sports, lifestyle, arts, and general entertainment; the masses no longer access news items on these genres from the traditional mass media (TV, newspapers, radio) alone. They are now readily accessible with a click on smart gadgets.
Also, the sharp divide between the role of producer and consumer of news information is no longer clear. Web 2.0 has made it possible for users to generate content, share the same and control flows through networking. The result is that the old guards responsible for filtering information flow are gone.
However, while anything can be “out there” with the emergence of Web 2.0, not everything out there is condoned. The practice of “cancel culture” is increasingly being sharpened to serve as an in-group regulatory mechanism for how online community members interact. Cancel culture also known as call-out culture is a form of social reprimands directed at individuals within a social circle (often online) who go against shared norms.
A cursory look at recent events relating to the Nigerian internet space would give a mouthful example of individuals that have been “cancelled”:  Tonto, Janemena and Prince Kpokpogri for a love triangle; Tiwa and a leaked sex tape; the Feminist Coalition for an alleged failure to account for #EndSARS contributions; and the most recent one, a group of skit markers in Nigeria received heavy backlash for attempting to “represent” “the youth” on a courtesy visit to the office of the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osibanjo.
The interesting part of this phenomenal development in our clime is the extent to which online activities (including boomerangs) affect and are affected by events in our political landscape.
Consider the last example involving the skit makers. It should be a shocking revelation that visiting the second most important person in Nigeria could be a source of concern. Ordinarily, a handshake with the noble should be greeted with admiration. Unfortunately, the odds against Nigeria today have made things to be out of the ordinary.
The spate of mindless killing going on across our nation, widening inequality resulting from economic hardships as well as commodity price hikes and the hopeless leadership offered by our government on these issues; these things have made Nigeria’s nobles to be a source of reproach. Precisely for this reason, the cancelling of the skit makers reflects more badly on the government than the young skit makers.
Furthermore, this watershed event should be marked as a sober reflection by the Nigerian elites. It should begin to become clear that Web 2.0 is disruptive to the odd norms that “respect” must be served at all costs. Elsewhere, I have argued that the concept called “respect” has been used to shield leaders from being accountable and responsive to those they lead in Nigeria (see my February 13, 2021 article published on Vanguard online as “It’s Time We Stopped Romancing “Respect” In Nigeria).
On the internet, however, celebrity, influencer, pastor, bishop, imam, alfa, governor, senator, president and whatever else there is that is of nobility in our present age can be dragged.
A glaring enabling factor for this change is access to information flow. Before the emergence of Web 2.0, it was rather difficult for the larger population to know about the activities and the lives of the nobles. Increased availability of information on the nobles and how their activities affect the larger population, thus, appears to be driving and reinvigorating political consciousness and deliberation in Nigeria with a consequence for disrupting power imbalance.
History is replete with examples of how gaining control over information or knowledge offsets the balance of power in societies. Consider the case of the French Revolution of the 18th-century (admittedly, my account here is simplistic). It was a revolt of about 90% of the French population against the 10% who were of the noble class.
The nobles (mainly members of the royal households and the clergies) were learned and the peasants were not. Ordinary men and women of this time only learned to obey whatever the elites forced down their throats. God was the centre and because the nobles were the closest to his form, they arrogated all the powers and wealth to themselves. The God-factor meant that this imbalance could not be questioned.
The Age of Enlightenment changed things. Access to books became widespread in the larger Europe and the peasant started to learn about ideas which empowered them to question their situations in contrast to the nobles. Importantly, humanity and the idea of “reason” as a capacity open to all humans took the central stage. Immanuel Kant would later write that (wo)man should “dare to know! Have the courage to use own reason”. The rest is history.
Louis XVI became the last king of France. As democracy took shape in France, its vibration around the world shook other monarchies, and wherever it went, it spread the principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, and fraternity).
Today, it is not printed books; Web 2.0 is the face of the new revolution. Because information flow is now largely decentred as in the 18th-century revolution, it is proving harder for the elites to market propaganda to serve their interest. For every lie that they tell, there is an opposing claim that could be pushed out. It is for this reason that the internet is the new battleground.
For those who feel that they must salvage the centre at all costs, however, they must learn that the centre can no longer hold. Today’s nobles must either learn to share power or cease to be relevant.
Dominic writes from the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.  
Vanguard News Nigeria



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