A TOUCHING STORY :: DEATH BY SOCIAL MEDIA – SHOLA FAGORUSI

I was going to be a witness to murder. The year was 2002. With a child strapped on her back and the phone firmly glued to her right ear, talking and gesticulating, she alighted from the bus and made to cross the road almost instantly. What this lady did not see was another vehicle snaking through the bend with speed. The next thing I heard was the screeching of the brake. The next I saw was a visibly frightened woman with a smiling child oblivious of the kiss and embrace with death that would have been.
Today, phones have become smarter; having more functions and accessories. Calling, answering phone calls, sending text messages and receiving same have become the elementary functions of phones. They now do more than that. Earlier this month, 11 years after that incident, a couple of dailies and online news sites reported a similar story but with a sad ending.

A young man was hit by a moving train on the rail track along the Agege Motor Road, Ikeja, Lagos. His head was reportedly battered. He did not see the train coming. He also did not hear the train approach. He had his two ears plugged with ear phones; loud enough to totally drown the vibration of the train and the hooting occasioned by the locomotive’s Engineer. Cheerless as it was, one can only imagine which song he was listening to and at what decibel and also ask if perhaps his face was glued to the phone using one of the several possible apps he had downloaded to make life better and increase his efficiency while having pleasure doing so.

The earphone was designed for convenience and to allow others enjoy their space while you enjoy yours. The campuses today possibly have more ear phones than books! With easier access to music and beats of various types and from various countries, the urge to keep the ears permanently plugged is enormous. The cost implication on our lives is what should frighten one. There are possibly innumerable instances of undocumented examples – the bike man who has his ears plugged or the driver who does same and losses track of his or her immediate environment.

The earphones can be put to good use when deployed with caution. How about recording lectures in class on the phone and listening to it privately? How about recording portions of a knotty concept yourself and listening repeatedly so it sinks and stays? New media tools should give us life, and not bring us death. There are too many road users whose sanity you cannot vouch for. Using an earphone on the road is an invitation to accident and death.

We are alive at a period when the world is in closer connection than never. While it may mean an increase in our access to information and friends, it may also mean otherwise. There has been an upsurge of late in the number of messages on Facebook soliciting for romantic friendship. While a regular user may not fall for the prank, my concern bothers on the irregular or new users who pride in such messages and see them as genuine. The social media space reeks of people with various intentions and thoughts. The world has the story of Amanda Todd, Cynthia Osokogwu and Ashleigh Hall to tell to draw home this lesson. One of the characteristics that come with being young is the feeling of invulnerability. Young people like to say – it can’t happen to me – when the obvious is that it can.

Todd committed suicide in 2012 in Canada and left a suicide video 4 hours before her death. The 16-year-old killed herself following series of online bully and blackmail by a Facebook friend who had encouraged her to expose her breast on camera. She was later blackmailed with this image. Nigerians still rue the death of Cynthia Osokogwu, a post-graduate student at the Nasarawa State University who, prior to her death, was in communication with a couple of guys on Facebook that posed as though they could offer her a hand in her search for good deals in retail clothing which she was into. Upon meeting them in Lagos, she was reportedly sexually assaulted, robbed and killed. The group later reportedly confessed she was their sixth victim.

Another lady, Ashleigh Hall, 17, was murdered by a Facebook friend who posed as a teenager when in fact his real name was Peter Chapman and he was 33. They agreed to meet after series of message exchange. When eventually they met on  October 25, 2009, he kidnapped, raped and killed her. In the same year, Holly Grogan, 15 was bullied at school; it did not stop even after she changed schools as the bullying continued through her Facebook account. Having had enough, she resorted to suicide by jumping from a 9 metre bridge onto a dual carriage road underneath.

It is a troubling trend that should raise our alert level. Meeting someone in real life following a social network conversation is dangerous when done without watchfulness. A caveat though: some of the meetings could turn out beneficial as well. The new media is simply a double edged sword.

 Close at hand are accounts of more people becoming worried or feel uneasy when they cannot access their social media accounts or mails. These digital media should be in our control and not us in their control. Depression is known as one of the leading causes of suicide globally. There are instances of people who grow into depression when they do not have the number of likes or comments they envisage following a status update. There are also others who want to be complimented for a new look or dress they have updated on Instagram or their digital profile and when that does not happen, they feel depressed.

 The overwhelming evidence that these networks we have come to love can kill should frighten us and have us strike the much needed balance we need for living. Life is like an ecosystem with each component performing specific functions for the overall good. Getting ‘over- connected’ may skew this balance.

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