THE SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE RIGHT TO DIGNITY OF THE PERSON

Advances in information communication technology and the advent of the social media has brought about the discovery of numerous things it can achieve and its capacity to disseminate information which can reach millions of people all over the world in record time. We are now exposed to so much knowledge and information that it is a wonder how the human brain can assimilate such amount of knowledge, without exploding.

I have known and participated in social media for a couple of years, although the days of sending and receiving emails in business centers precede that. When I started my sojourn into the world of social media, it was with the excitement and caution of a child learning to walk for the first time. I was not sure of what to expect or what I would stumble upon and trust me I stumbled into a lot of stuff, from the good, to the bad and to the ugly.

These days, social media has become bigger with so many websites and blogs created and many are still being created on a daily basis, each tailored to cater for the needs of different kinds of people all over the world. Right now we have the most popular social media sites being Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkdin and recently Snap-chat and a host of other sites including online-dating sites are also available and tailored to suit the needs and fantasies of various persons.

Nigeria is not left behind in this social media trend; as a matter of fact one can comfortably say because of her population, Nigeria has the highest number of social media users in Africa. The recently concluded Big Brother Africa reality show saw millions of Nigerians interacting on social media, supporting their preferred housemates (#teamEfe #teamBisola, #Bossnation) and casting their respective votes for them. Social media has also brought good popularity to some people who otherwise would be unknown and their respective talents hidden, e.g. Toke Makinwa and a host of others including Bobrisky! 😀

On social media, people post photos, videos of themselves and other people carrying out all kinds of activities; from the normal to the outrageous. We have seen it all! Last year (2016) can easily be said to have witnessed the largest social media boom since its arrival. We all love the Internet because it has made life much easier and the world smaller than it used to be. I sometimes wonder how we survived before the Internet and social media. Funny thing is, even back then I didn’t think life was boring, as we had our own limited activities which kept us occupied i.e. ten- ten, hopscotch, hopping from house to house visiting etc.

As much as we love social media and all the good things it offers, we shouldn’t forget the bad and ugly things it brings as well. We have seen where some people post videos of themselves or other persons committing crimes and all sorts of abuses or atrocities against others. What most people don’t realise is that doing this sometimes constitutes a violation of the right to dignity of person(s), which is fundamental to all other rights. It can arguably be said that most human rights are derived from human dignity, as it is the core of human rights law. This is why it is a fundamental right enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution; Section 34(1) states that:

“Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and      accordingly –

(a) no person shall be subject … to inhuman or degrading treatment”

Dignity is defined as:

“An individual or group’s sense of self-respect and self-worth, physical and psychological integrity and empowerment.”

 Inhuman or degrading treatment happens when someone is treated in a way that is both humiliating and debasing, making them feel less than their worth. It is even worse when a person is debased and then photos or videos of the act splashed all over social media. When one is stripped of their dignity; which makes the core of the person’s existence, it is very difficult to get the person back to the place of self worth. This is why this is a fundamental right which international, regional and local laws recognise and places as important.

In the process of sharing information and/or getting likes or traffic to their sites, some social media sites/blogs post photos or videos that can be said to humiliate the subject of the story. It’s worse when such a person is an innocent party like a child who isn’t aware of the events at hand. One is then left to wonder if exposing a victim of abuse in a degrading way is of any use to him/her. I might also add that neither does it add to the evidence against the perpetrator. All that happens is the dignity of the person whose picture or video has been publicly displayed is violated. There have been many videos and photos of children being molested, girls being raped and assaulted, men being beaten and stripped naked for crimes they were alleged to have committed and said videos posted on social media. These do not in any way make the situation better or justify said acts. Instead it causes further trauma to the person(s) who were abused and makes our society indifferent to human dignity and respect for sanctity of the person.

We might ask why will the citizens respect human dignity when even the law enforcement agencies don’t? The same law enforcement agents who are meant to protect these rights carry out a lot of disrespectful acts against citizens. We have seen a number of cases where they strip alleged suspects and beat them up for offences committed against them, for which the law has clearly provided processes of arrest, charge and prosecution of suspects. I will answer that by saying we have the power to call the law enforcement agents and military to order, by reporting and not emulating them. As a matter of fact there have been several cases of errant officers/soldiers being disciplined for assault and battery of civilians. This means their leadership realizes it is wrong and that there are consequences for such actions. We still have a long way to go, but if we as citizens show our abhorrence for wrongs done to us, by those constitutionally mandated to protect us, rather than following them, then the leaders will think twice before doing such. This applies to every aspect of governance and not just concerning dignity of human person.

Our lives, bodies and wellbeing are important and should be treated as such. It is a different case if one willingly bares themselves; at least it was done willingly. In any case no one will put himself out there in a debased or humiliated state, unless it’s a specific cry for help. We all need to exercise control before we post anything on social media, especially when it has negative effects on the bodily integrity of another person. We need to sit back, think and ask these questions before we post stuff on social media (not exhaustive):

  1. Is this post useful or fair to the victim i.e. will this help the victim access the needed help?
  2. Is it going to get the perpetrator apprehended to face justice?
  3. Is it just to gain popularity or traffic to the blog?
  4. Will it enlighten, educate or inform the audience or is it just for entertainment?
  5. If tables were turned will you like to be the one in that picture or video?

Have a blessed week and enjoy the rest of your day!

 

NB: Article was first published on Bellanaija.com as a features article. 

Please leave your questions and comments.