Ebola: Social media and gullible citizenry

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In Nigeria
Aug 12th, 2014
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SIR: There is no doubt that the presence of Ebola virus disease in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ghana is reaching a pandemic dimension. The panic among Nigerians explains the zeal and enthusiasm with which we embraced the rumour of a preventive therapy in a warm-salt- water bath last Friday. It is difficult to pin-point the exact source of the rumour but the substance of it was so pungent that it was difficult not to give it a thought in practice.

It is not difficult to fathom why Nigerians fell for the Ebola prevention rumour. In a country where health care delivery system is very poor, where doctors are on strike for months on end and the sick are left to die, where drugs, medical supplies and other medicaments and facilities are in short supply and not affordable where they exist, the thought of a ravaging disease with no sure cure is debilitating and shocking. How ready is Nigeria to deal with the disease should it surface, say in Auchi, Orlu or Gusau?

It is not enough to seek to quarantine a known Ebola virus disease victim. Such victims, even if we know they would surely die, must be fed, comforted and given a semblance of good treatment by health workers. Which health workers are ready to risk their lives in the face of the rampaging disease?

It is commendable that some effort is being made in this direction with the new life insurance policy for medical care-givers engaged in the Ebola containment effort. The Edo State government, for example, has already designated medical personnel and facilities for handling Ebola cases should any be found in the state.

The warm salt water bath hoax not only displayed the gullibility of the citizenry but shows how vulnerable the social media can be in the hands of those who have manipulative tendencies. For example, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media applications and platforms have become tools for blackmail, fraud and the spread of outright lies and falsehood, sometimes against political opponents and competitors.  Some Nigerians, out of frustration, see and use social media only as a platform to hurl insults and abuses at others. This incident has brought to the front burner, the need to regulate the use of social media in Nigeria. Users must take full moral and legal responsibility for what they post particularly with respect to matters concerning the security of lives and property.

Facebook particularly has become a platform for mudslinging, smear campaign and spread of libellous innuendoes against innocent persons, some of them holding high political, business, traditional or religious positions in the society.  It is a general belief that anything or whatever libellous material that is posted (or published) on Facebook or Twitter is not actionable. It is not so. Such posts may not have been tested in court here yet, but I hold the view that such a test may, as has happened elsewhere

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