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“Social media and communications day”
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“Social media and communications day”

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NnadozieCommunication has grown in speed and volume as technology advances, but Nnadozie Onyekuru, 27, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Nigeria, now studying in the USA, reflects on the importance of civility and ethics in true dialogue.

“Thought is occupied mostly with finding what is true while impulse pushes towards action. We ought to take care, therefore, that we exercise our thoughts on the highest possible things and show that impulse is obedient to reason.”

-Cicero, On Duties 

While preparing for Lent this year, I read Pope Francis’ message for the 50th World Communications Day. In the message, the pope emphasized the role of communication in building bridges and enabling inclusion, goals which I believe resonate with this year’s Commonwealth theme. According to Pope Francis, the digital world is “a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks.”

The pope’s reflections came on the heels of frustrations around the world over the abuse of social media by ordinary users who are often the foot soldiers of political and culture wars. In the previous year, Nigeria’s President Buhari chided some of his country’s citizens for displaying “unruly” behaviour. Elsewhere, Robert Barron decried the sluice of impudent comments that followed his public remarks on gender identity. Barron, the social media czar of the Catholic Church, reflected on a marriage debate between Professors Cornel West and Robert George as an example of civil discourse.

While such admonishments on civil speech are appropriate, it is important to keep in mind that all the figures mentioned so far are associated with institutions that usually represent the best of temperance and prudence. President Buhari is a retired army general. Bishop Barron is a Thomist; Thomists affirm the dialogue of faith and reason. Professors George and West have taught at elite universities. Many in the world do not share such backgrounds and it would be idealistic to expect them to live up to such standards of discourse.

Still, a measure of civility cannot be evaded by the common person. Last year, on this site, Ms. Wallace of Bahamas outlined certain don’ts in internet behaviour. The list is not exhaustive but has enough observations to reveal that what our age lacks primarily is an examination of conscience. In his famous “Apology”, Socrates posited that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” This is the real culprit of internet abuse. Many people are living without reflecting on their lives, without asking the questions that matter, without wondering how the world has come to be what it is today. This lack of self-examination has been exacerbated by the flourish of information technologies.

The free borders opened by this flourish have also brought a new urgency for all internet users to learn the difficult art of conversation. Fruitful conversationalists like Atlanta-based Farooq Kperogi show how this is possible. On his internet platforms, the former presidential speechwriter humbly informs and educates Nigerian netizens. His notes embody the qualities that Obafemi Awolowo once attributed to a press in the service of the state: truthfulness, knowledge, constructiveness and courage. Mr. Kperogi is a journalism teacher whose newspaper ruminations on language and society have since metamorphosed into a scholarly work titled “Glocal English: The Changing Face and Norms of Nigerian English in a Global World.”

His online demeanour brings to light another issue to consider in our digital age. Since the internet has bequeathed to average people an unprecedented broadcast power which makes them usurp the trade of the journalist, it is important that they take crash courses in the ethics of journalism. A worthwhile beginning might be Maria Shriver’s 2012 commencement address to the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Titled “The Power of the Pause”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5xLcLIlXqU the ace journalist not only admonishes future journalists on the consequences of impulsive behaviour online, but also encourages them to cherish the virtue of self-examination at various stages of their lives.

Photo credit: http://mrg.bz/mV0xXr

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About me:

I am a Nigerian student. I love books. I am young and enthusiastic with firm dreams that are only tempered by Christianity. I dream of a world where people, inspired by their common humanity, engage in a global wheel of ideas and do not use history as a tool for blame game but as a lesson for the future. In my spare time, I write stories, speeches and participate in activities that advance the respect of human dignity.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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