The impressive power of social media has been laid bare for all to see in the past two weeks, as the huge #EndSars protests and related online activism led to real change in Nigeria. The protests will continue, of course, as many Nigerians are seeking more serious reforms. It was those tweets though — some 28 million of them — that propelled the issue onto the world stage.
In Cameroon, social media has been used effectively to raise awareness of the Anglophone Crisis, though it has never quite been as successful as the unprecedented #EndSars movement. It could be argued that the #EndPhoneTax campaign was more effective in achieving its goals in just a few days, forcing the government of Cameroon into an unusual climbdown. The immensely underreported Anglophone Crisis does not have universal appeal across the country, however, and the partisan nature of a huge number of social media accounts does not necessarily promote positive dialogue online.
What the Anglophone Crisis has seen, however, is a terrifying level of social media weaponization. Facebook posts have led to humanitarian convoys being intercepted, requiring them to negotiate their freedom from ill-informed armed individuals. These negotiations can involve intermediaries in the diaspora who effectively become the judge and jury at that moment. The armed individuals, of course, become the executioners. Both separatist and pro-government activists create posts highlighting individuals for targeting on the ground, and this has led to some horrific events. Needless to say, people have been kidnapped, tortured, and killed due to posts like these.
Some armed separatist groups have their own pages on social media, celebrating the feats of their fighters, distributing propaganda, and often holding live streams to thousands of followers. Pages linked to the Cameroonian government do the same, showcasing the outcome of military raids, spreading anti-separatist propaganda, and more. The level of vitriol on these pages can be horrific, and images are often extremely graphic in nature. Some armed groups are even funded, controlled, and coordinated through social media.
“Why are Francophone children still in town? Mass cleaning of Francophones will move our war faster than before. #CleanThemUp”
Make no mistake, today’s social media serves the same purpose of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, Rwanda, in 1993/1994. Yet it is more pervasive and far more decentralized, making it much harder to fight. As we have rolled slowly towards a terrible precipice since 2016, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have been asleep at the wheel. With the Ngarbuh Massacre and the Kumba School Killings in mind, I would argue that we already well over the precipice, heading towards freefall.
“I am launching operation clean Francophones in Ambazonia. AFF army must clean all the Francophones in their community now.”
“Cameroon military, kumkumise (kill) this terrorist as soon as possible — if you know the whereabouts of this terrorist rapist and kidnapper, please call the authorities”.
Over my years working on the crisis in different capacities, I’ve saved many quotes from posts that I found to be particularly concerning. You can find some of them in this article. These are real quotes, by real people, on social media related to the Anglophone Crisis.
“Over the weekend I tracked down two Amba Facebook supporters and killed them.”
“I will advise you all to attack the UN convoy at all times unless there is a clear order from the UN headquarters… shoot them and tell the world they were illegal”.
People experience unimaginable trauma due to social media in the Anglophone regions. People die. Others experience vicarious trauma simply through being exposed to the graphic content that permeates so much of the online world surrounding the crisis.
Social media may have enabled us to raise awareness of the crisis, but my god has that been a double-edged sword. At what cost, Mark Zuckerberg and co?
Can you put that genie back in the bottle, Facebook? I don’t think so.
“Imagine if this were to happen around Quartier General or at Carrefour Warda in Yaounde on a bright Sunday afternoon.” (Talking about a video of a car bomb exploding in the Middle East).
“Any Amba that passes near Buea should bring his coffin”.