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A Proposal on Social Media Usage Among Students During Endsars Protest


Conceptual framework

Social Media

This new media uses digital platforms to create awareness and social interaction. Social media could be used for information, education, and entertainment. Hence, social networking sites, according to Al-Harrasi and Al-Badi (2014), ‘has become a basic practice in students’ daily routines. They use different social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Academia, and MySpace, spending a long time on such sites’.

The use of social media is not limited only to students’ daily routines, but is also used for business transactions, advertising, and social movement campaigns. This is ‘a two-way digital system’ (Biagi, 2013). In other words, an interactive system enables users to give feedback.

However, there is a gap between the digital users and non- users, and perhaps, this could be because of social inequality. The advances in technology gives social media users opportunities to express their feelings and thoughts in any situation they find themselves. Through social media platforms, the messages are instantly spread, shared, and retweeted by users.

Social media plays an important part in connecting communities from around the world. It helps mix the cultures of different peoples, and due to time spent on social media, users view many topics and provide their outlook on it. Since social media has formed a habit for many users it is influential in changing their view towards an incident (Barkan, 2016). Social media is also useful for campaigns, as it allows communication between users at fast speed.


Social protests

Today, people do not only rely on political parties and the electoral process to express their preferences, but also on demonstrations, protests, campaigns, petitions, marches, and organizations which can help them achieve their social change goals (Johnston, 2011). The opportunity structure needs to consider how a social movement is driven by grievances (Lopes, 2014).

These grievances can be caused from a change or deterioration of political, social, and or economic situations (Lopes, 2014). Social movements rely on the print and online media to mobilise and gain public support, as movements depend on the media to generate public sympathy for their challenges (Lopes, 2014). Technologies have provided an opportunity for people to mobilise and organise themselves. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email, text messaging, and photo sharing have enhanced social interactions, communications, and public participation in social movements.


Overview of the Endsars protest

#EndSARS started as a call for the disbandment of Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force that has earned notoriety for its brutality and human rights violations. It was first used in 2018 to raise awareness of allegations of violence and exploitation by SARS officials. The government announced structural changes to SARS but the alleged human rights violations and exploitation continued. In October 2020, reports of an unprovoked shooting of a boy in the streets of Delta State by SARS operatives were shared on social media.3 Although the Nigerian Police denied the shooting in this particular case, it was not enough to quell public anger as more videos of police shootings were shared across social media platforms. Celebrities and activists rallied for support on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and, in a matter of days, protesters lined the streets of Lagos and Abuja demanding an end to SARS. Pressured by the publicity that the protests had generated, the Nigerian government swiftly announced the disbandment of SARS. This move, however, was not enough to appease the protesters in light of similar pronouncements made previously by the government. For instance, in December 2017, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) announced that SARS had been banned from conducting stop and search operations following several reports of harassment. This ban was publicly re-announced by the IGP in 2018 and 2020, reflecting the ineffectiveness of previous orders. Similarly, in 2018, Nigeria’s acting president announced an overhaul of SARS, stating that the National Human Rights Commission would investigate cases of abuse. This statement was followed shortly by the announcement of a centralised FSARS (Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad) which would come under the supervision of the Inspector General of Police as opposed to the previous version which was under state Commissioners of Police. Mere weeks later, the IGP announced the disbandment of FSARS, stating that the unit would go back to being decentralised and under the command of state commissioners. In light of past practices and disappointments, protestors added to their list of demands, calling for compensation of victims of SARS brutality, retraining of police officers, and trials of indicted SARS officials.


Theoretical Review

The Public Sphere Theory by Jurgen Habermas

Jurgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere provides a basis for discussions of the public sphere/s and, through it, influence political action. The concept of the public sphere, according to Harbemas (1989), is an area within social life where public opinion is formed such that it is accessible to all. The proponent of the theory argues that in this realm, social class positions are irrelevant, and the connections between activists in the public sphere are formed through a mutual will to take part in matters that cut across society.

Habermas defines the public sphere as an imaginary society that does not occupy an identifiable place in a state. In Harbema’s ideal world, the public sphere is “private people gathered together as a public to give voice to the needs of society within the state”. Through acts of assembly and dialogue, the public sphere generates opinions and attitudes which serve to guide the affairs of state. In other words, the public sphere is the source of public opinion in democratic societies.

Harbemas notes:


The Social Capital Theory

Social capital is the mutual trust and cooperation that arises from the connections that people forge (Putnam, 2001). Social capital thus refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions.

The Social Capital Theory was variously originated by Pierre Bourdieu, James Coleman, Mark Granovetter and Robert Putnam. Bourdieu broadly defines it as those resources inherent in social relations which facilitate collective action (Bourdieu, 2013). These include trust, norms and collective cultures, as well as networks of association that are characteristic of any group which gathers regularly for a common purpose. A norm, for instance, may be the belief in the equality of citizens (Bourdieu, Calhoun & LiPuma, 1993).

Putnam’s concept of social capital is made up of three concepts: moral obligations and norms, social values, and social networks (which must be voluntary). Putnam’s central thesis is that if a region has a well-functioning economic system and a high level of political integration, these are the result of the region’s successful accumulation of social capital (Putnam, 1993).


Empirical review

Lievrow (2013) in Alternative and Activist New Media delves into the ways in which activists use social media and information technologies to gain visibility and voice, to present alternative views or to “counter dominant media culture”. By analysing major historical cases, the authors seek to trace the history of alternative media, its objectives and achievements to demonstrate what makes alternative media more efficient and better suited to informing, warning, rebuking, and correcting and agitating for change.

During the Arab uprisings of early 2011, which saw the overthrow of Presidents Zine el-Abdine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, it is conceded that digital media played an important role in making the revolution possible – the Egyptian government even attempted to block Internet and mobile phone access in January 2011. However, the local context in both Egypt and Tunisia played an equally important role in the revolutions (Faris, 2013).

It is noteworthy that in Tunisia, the self immolation of a street vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, in December 2010 in protest for the confiscation of his wares and the harassment by a municipal official, was what triggered public anger and violence, leading to the overthrow of President Ben Ali, and inspiring uprisings in other Arab countries. Likewise, Egypt had experienced a history of both online and street activism since the early 1990s, supplemented by an independent press, which laid important ground work for the scenes in Tahrir Square in 2011. Ostensibly then, without the foundation laid by the street protests, the Arab Uprisings, in Egypt to be precise, might never have come to fruition.

Gladwell, writing in the Atlantic.com in September 2010 (On Social Media and Activism) has also questioned the effectiveness of social media to organise physical protest. She says: “It’s easy for people to participate online, but far more difficult to turn those words into action…” The concept that every user of the Internet is “a participating member of human society” fails to serve the purpose it is meant to – creating oneness of purpose – because the subtle argument then would be that if one does not feel like taking part, then that is fair enough.


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