6 October 2018

Ethiopia: Offense for an Offense Makes Us All More Angry

column

Gone are the days when people shared their minds in a respectful manner. Civility has been chucked out of the window and replaced by an endless array of insult-trading and hate-mongering.

What most people have come to consider as opinions, often by self-appointed experts on social media, constitute no more than a rehash of tired ideas and historical facts supported by thin threads of evidence. Even worse, the PhDs and the professors are adding fuel to the fire all the while contributing nothing of value to the deep economic problems Ethiopians face.

Since social media is an easily accessible platform for many individuals and organisations, it is logical that many use it to make themselves heard. But unlike the case not too ago, when people were considerate and respectful enough to start an email correspondence or a letter with the adjective "dear", social media has become a platform where rants and bullies have proliferated.

For all the promise that social media will make the world more democratic, it appears to be highly one-sided, often favouring those that pontificate on matters they barely understand and often circulate unverified news. The scariest part is that even those employed in journalism have joined the mindless hoards.

It is unfortunate to see people I deeply respected in person, and even some who mentored me, get infected by this poisonous social ill. Mature and highly regarded people have gone to depths that sour their ethical and professional standards.

Ranting on social media might be a way to garner attention. The allure of social approval even from strangers can spur some people to post unverified and inconsiderate content and ridicule others to gain a few likes.

Unfortunately, just as bad news travels faster than good news, unseemly behaviour gains more attention than sober analysis of matters. And as any media outlets can agree, bad news also generates more clicks and page views. However, what distinguishes online rants from news produced by legitimate media outlets is that personal posts are not fact-checked and balanced to present both sides of a story.

Experts say ranting online is a symptom of increased sense of anger. Like an infant who learns early in life that screaming is the primary currency for getting attention, adults that throw tantrums on social media are rewarded by followers and friends that share similar character traits.

The violence and the aggressive nature of Ethiopian "activists" can be upsetting, but it should not give anyone the urge to return the aggression in kind. An offense for an offense merely ends up making all of us angry, disillusioned and insufferable. We should have the courage of our conviction to calm down and let some things pass.

Several laws protect the right to freedom of expression: Ethiopia's supreme law of the land as well as international laws, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights and the African Charter of Human & Peoples Rights.

While the right to freedom of expression is a fundamental right, it is not an absolute one. In certain circumstances, restrictions may be imposed on it. However, any restrictions ought to be strictly necessary, be narrowly tailored and should not put in jeopardy the right itself.

Regarding international law, there is a recommendation for the development of custom-made approaches for responding to illegal content online, while pointing out that specific restrictions for material disseminated over the internet may not be compulsory. This is to promote the use of self-regulation as a useful tool in redressing harmful online content.

It would be better if we can take a step back and try to identify what we are turning into with odious posts. It is not merely that what we say could one day come back to haunt us but the implication they will have as they disseminate across the internet. Our energy and time would be of much greater social use if we can concentrate on working to escape from poverty, inequality, injustice and unemployment.

Improving oneself is a struggle that needs a great deal of work and persistence. There would not be any winning without a challenge. That is what meaningful and purposeful life is all about. What takes up our time should be overcoming the challenge to develop ourselves and our skills to create a solution to solve Ethiopia's problems. It is about taking these skills and values to the public for the betterment of all of us.

Good habits do not come easily, but they can be developed. Building a country is never an emotional task, it is a logical process where citizens collaborate on various components that make up a strong and prosperous state.

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