#TrollCabal and a New Conceptualization of Trolling

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

The Web I want

Early this year, I participated in a session that discussed Internet Trolling in the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit “The Open Internet: Local Perspectives, Global Rights” that held in Cebu, Philippines. It was fascinating that speaker after speaker derided trolls. It made sense considering the torture some have faced and continue to face from them.

Who Is A Troll?

Urban dictionary asserts that a troll is “one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” Wikipedia is more expressive:

In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

What is striking about the different renditions of trolling or trolls is that inherent intent to malign, disrupt and cause undue havoc. Thus it was only reasonable that expressions like ‘chock the trolls’ ‘don’t feed the trolls’, etc rolled out in that session in Cebu. However, can there be other portrayals of trolling that does not include this deliberate intention to destroy?

Nigeria’s Political Twitter, a Background

Anyone who follows Twitter Nigeria will agree that it is a pool of boiling conversations – from the good, to the bad and to the damn ugly. While Twitter remains a loose architecture that restricts with its 140 character limit, Nigerians have evolved ways of having a thriving discussion despite these constrains.

In the build up to the 2015 General Elections in my country, I highlighted the bi-focal disruptive political narrative that was inflicted on Nigeria’s Twitterati networked public sphere:

The streets of Nigeria’s Twitter are hot and harsh these days. The clash of the politico-twitterati on each side of the divide – opposition and the establishment – has been characterized with vile tweet-blood. Politico-Twitterati means those influential tweeps or overlords who are active partisan politicians. They differ from “political tweeps” (or political activists) who though they tweet on politics, owe no allegiance to any political party. The narrative as expounded by each side of the divide can be grouped into two: disruptive narration (by the opposition) and confutative narration (by the establishment).

Many of us saw beyond the façade then that this bifurcated narration was essentially political – either to keep hold on power or to take hold of power. It had nothing to do with love of country or the much trumpeted patriotism.

Besides, my ethnographic immersion as a participant-observer in Twitter Nigeria’s networked public sphere had made me more skeptical than ever. Truth is that nothing is what they seem, not only in Twitter but also in the country. Besides, social media in Nigeria is the public sphere for many whose only media is the social media. Unlike many digital immigrants, there is nothing ‘new’ in new media for digital natives.

We Are the #TrollCabal

Ikenna Okonkwo (@FailedRift), a geologist, university lecturer, blogger and social media aficionado is the founder and pioneer Convener of Twitter Nigeria #TrollCabal. Okonkwo resigned this year and passed on the baton of leadership to your sincerely, Nwachukwu Egbunike (@feathersproject).

This group’s aims are entirely non-confessional. #TrollCabal is made up of Nigerian tweeps from diverse ethnic nationalities, political leanings and cultural sympathies. The cabal has gradually swelled to admit so many tweeps who wanted a break from the bile that characterized conversations in TwitterNG. Later the group diversified into Sub Delivery Service (SDS) and Yardists.

Essentially the #TrollCabal makes mockery of the drama that characterizes Nigeria political space. We also mimic the Twitter Overlords and their conversations. This takes off the heat, which often bothers on pure hate, from the Twitter’s space. In addition, it provides a counter narrative that is non-violent and at the same time humorous.

Obviously the real impact of the #TrollCabal on the public conversation in Twitter will need a systematic unpacking by media scholars. However, the noon day clarity of the vibrancy of Nigerians on Twitter is one that needs no diviners peering. The #TrollCabal hopes to continue blazing the trail in this new conceptualization of Internet Trolling. For once these are trolls with no intention to disrupt, destroy or inflict undue pain.

Join us today. We are the #TrollCabal!

 

 

 

#FreeZone9Bloggers – Ethiopian Bloggers Jailed for Using Social Media

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

6 bloggers

Six Ethiopian bloggers – Abel Wabella, Atnaf Berhane, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnail Feleke, Zelalem Kibret and Befekadu Hailu – and three journalists – Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, Tesfalem Waldyes and Edom Kassaye – have been arrested. They are all facing prosecution for using social media.

This post by Global Voices Advocacy gives the background of the bloggers, a detailed review of their arrest and apprehension it has created in Ethiopian blogosphere.

The nine bloggers and journalists were arraigned in court last Sunday (April 27, 2014). They were charged with  “working with foreign human rights organizations and using social media to create instability in the country”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned their arrest and have called for the immediate release.

Below is a storify story – curated by the CPJ –  narrating their arrests and the reaction of Ethiopian netizens:

 

 

 

 

#Occupy Everywhere: Social Media and Global Variations of the #Occupy Movement

This was one of the numerous panel discussions during the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Nairobi, Kenya (June 29 – July 3, 2012).

Four  Global Voices Authors – Alexey Sidorenko (Russia), Nwachukwu Egbunike (Nigeria), Leila Nachawati (Spain) and Robert Valencia (USA) – discussed the above-mentioned theme in relation to our different countries. Enjoy it, if your bandwidth is strong enough!

The video below was graciously provided by Global Voices Video – which also has other presentations at the summit.

The Nigerian Twitterati: Saints and Sinners?

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

 @EddyAniekan: Twitter, like Grace, covers all sins, ignorance, weaknesses, lies, all ugliness. On twitter everything is possible. Anyone can be anything…

In the past days, Twitter was turned into a battle field: an arena for spiteful exchanges between two groups of ‘respected’ young Nigerian opinion leaders. What was the crux of the fight? One of them – that works for the government – had released an insult which was directed to the other group. What followed was an exchange of ad hominium tweets from the offended group and their followers. I am not concerned about the pettiness of that act and I do not intend to join the conversation – for or against. However, this incident ruptured a latent but deadly metastasis that is gradually characterizing the Nigerian Twitter crowd. The twitter public sphere seems to be divided between saints and sinners.

Using the frame conceptualization – an over simplification – the saintly Nigerian Twitter elite is one who always criticizes government and her agents. The saintly twitter elite could also be one who engaged in government services and has an unrepentant bias against netizens.

On the other hand, the twitter sinner is one who has done the unpardonable: taken up a government appointment, does not latch out on government at the slightest opportunity and generally will never see anything good from that sector. In effect anyone who goes against the twitter crowd – it matters nothing if that person is right – by daring to assert an analytical consciousness or dares to think independently is courting trouble.

This same over-simplification was evident in the framing of the Arab Spring: the initial reaction and which still persists in some quarters was that of a Twitter or Facebook Revolution. This assumption did not stand the test of evidence which shows that although the social media played a great role in the people’s revolt in Egypt, it was demeaning to label it a Twitter or Facebook revolution. Rather it took an intricate synergy of traditional, new media and human involvement to get Mubarak packing.

Obviously both camps of Nigerian Twitterati saints and sinners are unfortunately wrong. This bifurcation is hinged on generalizations that may have no basis in reality. For the establishment crowd: all critics are necessarily noise makers seeking attention and are just waiting to be bought over to perpetual silence or praise singing. Neither is it always true that anyone who crosses over to the dark side –  ‘government’ has necessarily lost his/her soul. And by so doing has won a lottery ticket to be maligned.

Granted that instances that seem to justify both stances abound and the list is endless. However, to fall into the same pitfall that has characterized the Nigerian public space by the so called future of our country is indeed pathetic. In righteous indignation, we all cringed at the public vitriolic between Obasanjo and Babangida some years ago: in the sacred chamber of the social media, their act of shamelessness was dissected and discussed. And the some netizens are practically towing the same path. Who will now judge the judge?

Not all Nigerians who served in the public sector are sell-outs. Dr Oby Ezekwesili and Prof Pat Utomi have successfully navigated both the public and private sector with their integrity intact. Can any of us be more patriotic than these people? Same goes for those who invested all their lives as the living conscience of those in power: Late Gani Fawehinmi and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. These few examples are not revered today for their love for Nigeria only on the basis of what they said, claimed to believe in but on their unblemished records.

I was pushed into making this intervention because I understand the frustration that abounds in our land. The ineptitude of the political class and establishment lackeys are legendry. This has been one of the wins of the social media: to keep the so-called ‘representatives’ of the people in check. However, it would be hypocritical to pretend that the ‘Peoples Parliament’ is without fault. The tendency to focus on people rather than issues is gradually becoming the norm.

In any society, people differ and this variety of opinion is healthy and should be encouraged. Each person has the freedom to decide which part of history to pitch his/her tent with. What matters in the end, is that history also has a way to sift out the fakes from the genuine. Nonetheless, no one has a monopoly of knowledge – both saints and sinners. Ego fight and Messiah complex is the fastest way to destroy the Nigeria of our dreams. It’s high time to stop this senseless denigration – I better pass my neighbour!

Saharareporters: Breaking the Hush

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

Late last year, I attended one of those media come and chop programmes in Lagos. After the event, the crowd broke into groups and one of the editors of a national daily made an open confession to the effect that the first thing he does daily is to check out Saharareporters.  The fellow was candid enough to acknowledge that no Nigerian editor – print or broadcast – fails to engage in the same daily ritual.

With the opening of the Nigerian democratic space, Saharareporters have emerged as one of the few and credible online media. Although in some occasion they have gaffed, with a propensity to over exaggerate, nonetheless, no one can deny that Saharareporters’ unique place in providing current news. Their stories are usually of the hue that most – if not all – Nigerian based media dares not carry. As such, most governments big-men have made it their singular priority to crash their site.

With the ubiquity of the internet, Nigerians have wider access to information. However, as much as many sources abound, in the midst of confusion that lime the country’s national identity, Saharareporters have remained faithful to their philosophy of providing accurate paintings of the country’s oligocrats. In an environment that idolizes untruth, this medium has peered and continues to expose those who think it’s their birth right to milk the country.

It is therefore no surprise that Al-Jazerra: an international media with an Arab bias, has acknowledged the courage of Sharareporters and it’s founder – Omoyele Sowore. While some may claim that the comfort of New York shields Sowore from the hawks back home. Nonetheless, Sowore could have folded his arms and like most Nigerians (at home and in the diaspora), just complain and do nothing. Congratulations on this honour and may your tribe never cease.