Communicating and sharing information with people has evolved over the years, from the era of sending text messages and faxes, listening to town criers, or depending on the morning preacher who uses a megaphone for a call to prayer, to what we have today, a seamless system of communication, all thanks to technological advancement and innovation.

Today, the process and speed of communication have been transformed as we have tools and channels that can aid the prompt delivery of messages from a sender to the receiver. The most popular medium now used to aid communication is social media, which is an interactive web-based technology that allows individuals to interact with friends, build a community, co-create, and share content.

Undoubtedly, communication in today’s world has been impacted by social media. A report by DataReportal reveals that the number of social media users in the world grew by 227 million over the past year. Currently, we have 4.70 billion people using a form of social media in the world. These numbers only go to show the influence of social media on our lives and how social media is being integrated into our daily activities, bridging the gap in communication as well as redefining the way we interact. Imagine being able to reconnect and share happy moments with a long-lost friend during this festive period or establishing a connection with an admired celebrity like Banky W, learning about a new update in another country, or discovering a scholarship opportunity on a social network for those aiming to ‘Japa’. These and more are what make social media increasingly accepted in this age.

Notwithstanding, the culture of social media is growing to be more nuanced every day. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have certain rules and guidelines that outline what is acceptable or not. As culture differs for every individual, so do beliefs, attitudes, values, and mindset differ. The way an individual in Nigeria will receive and disseminate information is different from how an American or an Indian will receive information. So, while we take a position on whether social media fosters interaction or its effectiveness in aiding harmonious communication, considerations for nuances, usage, and cultural differences must be taken into cognisance.

Through social networks which also enable the expansion of content, marketers have the ability to influence both existing and potential customers. Companies and individuals have acknowledged the significance of social media in positioning and building brand equity; hence, they go a step further in engaging professional social media managers to develop posts that are targeted and provide responses to followers’ inquiries. With over 500 million Tweets sent per day, according to data from Hootsuite, brands are constantly monitoring to track mentions and trends in order to maintain a positive image. As such, it is recognised that posting alone is not enough; it is also necessary to provide responses as required to boost relevance and likeability. In this regard, social media has proven to be instrumental in fostering interaction. And interaction also extends beyond just commenting on a social media post; it also encompasses liking and sharing the post to other platforms or with other people.

Social media is fast becoming a platform that companies and individuals leverage to connect, interact, create awareness, and increase visibility as well as build relationships with existing and prospective customers. However, through the misuse of social media, the possibility of the platform breeding conflict outweighs its ability to create harmony. A case in point was the tweet posted by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 1st of June 2021, in reaction to a series of attacks in the southeast at the time which was blamed on a secessionist group. The tweet reads, “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand”. This tweet which was later deleted by the microblogging platform, Twitter, was recorded to have generated a negative reaction from Nigerians. The tweet was regarded as threatening, vile, and inciteful. We have also experienced several instances where posts on social media were deleted for causing chaos rather than facilitating harmony.

Also, the spread of misinformation and disinformation poses a huge threat to enabling harmonious communication on social media. To further contextualise and understand the claim that social media do not enable harmonious communication, it is significant to state that harmonious communication encourages the exchange of information that is positive and promotes peace. Interestingly, with the volume of accurate and inaccurate news, opinions, views, and comments being shared on social media, information is mostly distorted to suit individual agendas or for propaganda reasons. But then, the spread of inaccurate information is either inadvertent or done deliberately to cause conflict, panic, or instigate negative reactions. Considering certain occurrences in recent times, from COVID-19 to the elections in different parts of the world, social media has played a huge role in disseminating information, fostering interactions, and building communities, but it has also aided the spread of conflicting opinions, news, and views, which have had a real-life impact on social media users.

Because humans are highly egoistical in nature, our ability to accept others’ contrary opinions, be they right or wrong, is usually an issue, so in communication, when individual biases and agenda is revealed in communication, there will certainly be conflicting reactions and responses to these biases which gives room for conflict in communication and often snowballs in social media rage or war. For instance, nuanced conversations around religion, gender, and politics are known to spark conflict on social media.

Ultimately, it is important to acknowledge that to achieve harmonious communication on social media, participants in nuanced conversations will be required to make efforts, however painful they may be, to seek mutual understanding while maintaining their differences in order to have harmonious communication with one another on social media.
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Ojebisi, a communication executive, writes from Lagos