In the past week, a gruesome 2-minute video of George Floyd’s death as police handcuffed him and knelt on his neck for several minutes before he died rattled the Internet. And this has since sparked a number of protests against racism and police brutality both online and offline in the US and other parts of the world.
A couple of days later there were three cases involving rape, murder, and police brutality against young women in different parts of Nigeria. Consequently, a lot of virtual outrage has been generated.
While Floyd’s case was captured on video, there were only pictures of the assaulted ladies. These images were made to go viral by people who aren’t necessarily professional journalists. And this is a simplified description of what a citizen journalist does.
In citizen journalism, people with smart gadgets, cameras, and other recording devices disseminate information using websites, blogs, and social media.
Compared to what happened in the past, the attention these incidents get seems to be only a fraction of what can be achieved through Internet journalism. And it is impossible to deny how much social media have supported this cause.
In the place of protests — perhaps because of the current prohibition on large gatherings — Nigerians have made hashtags trends across social media platforms; #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreath, #EndRapeCulture, among others can be seen across timelines.
At this point, it is only fair to admit that these tweets and other activities of citizen journalists have played a part in creating awareness about current events. Beyond the Internet, however, there isn’t much proof of their impact.
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The George Floyd outbursts, for instance, reportedly led to the arrest of Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd down with his knee, who has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
While we might not be able to match the extent to which some of these reports trend on social media with real life outcomes, we cannot dismiss that they have proven helpful in some ways.
During the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, citizen-observer reportage was considered vital to provide accurate and real-time information in the election process including exposing malpractices.
Similarly, during the #EndSARS campaign which started a few years back when police brutality against young people was rampant, different reports of victims’ experiences were released online in attempts to expose the rot. These activities probably contributed to the scrapping of satellite offices of that arm of the Nigeria Police Force.
In 2017, we launched the #EndSARS #ReformPoliceNG multilayered campaign, which directly confronted and addressed the agelong culture of impunity, corruption, brigandage and state sponsored criminality within the police as it claims the lives of the youth on a national scale. pic.twitter.com/fHco0fX25o
— SEGA L'éveilleur® (@segalink) March 16, 2020
In a recent development, ‘Segun Awosanya, a social media activist, is following up on the charges against a Kogi state government commissioner who allegedly assaulted one Miss Elizabeth because of a Facebook post.
The Kogi Commissioner that allegedly battered and raped Ms. Elizabeth is now in Custody at the @PoliceNG FHQ after several attempts to obstruct justice by the Governor of the state. He is currently making a statement & we hope he will be detained & charged for his infringement. pic.twitter.com/3GKBBJUZZT
— SEGA L'éveilleur® (@segalink) June 2, 2020
Despite these results, there is still concern about how to measure the impact of citizen journalism.
However, there is good news. Currently, there is no law prohibiting citizen journalism in Nigeria, though this cannot be said about some other African countries with restrictions on citizens’ Internet use.
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Nigerians hope that the nation is not on the same path with the Social Media Bill constantly opposed by society advocates. Whatever happens, any potential for censorship could be suppressed by the Freedom of Information Act 2011 which citizens can leverage on.
With none of these restrictions in place in Nigeria, it is clear that anyone can engage in journalism. Putting aside fears that this might affect mainstream journalism or encourage misinformation, the reach, immediacy, coverage, and cheapness of citizen journalism gives it credence.
However little the results are at the moment, documenting these events may just be the push needed to support any reformation towards reducing crimes in the future.