On Internet Journalism, Censorship and Ignore Lists… (Critics Beware!)

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

Message boards are inventions of the day- perhaps one of the most notable tools on the World Wide Web. I still remember vividly the day I discovered my first message board back when I was schooling at “the Greatest University of Lagos”- it was simply a miracle. There at the touch of the return key on the keyboard I could engage thousands of people worldwide on issues I care about. We could argue, we could check facts with the young and upcoming search engines of those times (I still remember Google was for geeks – Lycos & yahoo was the more popular one). Today, message boards have become ubiquitous; virtually every website that is worth its salt include message boards to serve as some kind of village square drawing inspiration from the traditional invention that is the epochal height of democratic desires of our society.

Talking about the democracy, message boards represent to the end users a height of democratic freedom of expression. You could say whatever you want, generally without fear or favor; the anonymity the Internet grants its users come in very handy. Private messaging, self censorship and indeed moral suasion and general board rules were in those early days sufficient in keeping the peace on those message boards. I frequented Yahoo groups that talked about international affairs; I still remember one group on collegeclub.com that I used to visit for US politics immediately after that fateful 2000 elections. Democrats were bitter, Republicans were effusive- it was fun!

But times are changing. The hopes of democratic freedom of expression are dimming day by day. Message boards have stopped being what they used to be. They used to be fun; even village idiots had their moments. Whether you had something substantial or nothing to contribute, you tend to have your say. But times have changed- is it that we have become less tolerant of opposing views? Or are we experiencing what experts called informational saturation? May be it is the truism that the more things change, the more they remain the same that is manifesting itself. The Internet technology that invented message board has also given us a new tool of late. Some see this tool as life saving, but I see it as destructive. They call it ignore list.

For the uninitiated, ignore lists are generally available to various users of message boards, to place particular members you dislike on some kind of mute mode. Apparently since you hardly personally know the member that you placed on ignore list, the general idea of course is that you disagree with their point of view. This may mean that you hate to hear from them; you loathe the manner and ways they put their views across. May be, they are conservative and you are liberal; maybe. But in any case, you see it fit to put them on your ignore list. Now in the thumbs of your hands you have the Abacha like power to imprison. You do not imprison a person to preserve them; you imprison them to silence them. But instead of flesh and blood, what you imprison when you place people on ignore lists are ideas. “He who kills an idea has killed ten thousand people”, a saying goes. Ignore lists are gulags, the Kirikiri prison of the Internet where internet despots permanently jail those whom they disagree with.

In as much as the Internet was meant to be open and a place where mere mortals can rove and exchange thoughts, I believe that ignore lists are tools from the devil to thwart our natural freedoms. You do not have to agree with me, but I just seek your reasoning on this matter. I seek not to force you to change your mind because that would mean denying your right of choice, but to convince you. It’s true that some very menacing and threatening creatures and thoughts do exist on the Internet (having been their mince meats, more times too many thank you), and I also understand the natural tendency of human beings to shut off the opposition and cohabit with like minded individuals, but is that not a self defeatist approach ? Do you not acknowledge the inferiority of your thought process when instead of combating another human being “fact for fact” you instead decide to apply the almighty ignore list? Are you insecure in your thought enough to shut your eyes to the reality of the other side of the pond?

Exchanging ideas is very important in the social complex we operate within. No one can be self sufficient and it takes exploiting the interconnectedness of humanity along with the infinite resources that exists, because we are all different, to come up with durable solutions to man’s problem. At times I am amazed that after the hard work of putting an article together, just when I thought I have had the Eureka moment and stumbled upon an idea, a release of the contents to public sphere is followed by serious prodding and sometimes shredding of such ideas on very legitimate grounds. At these moments, I need not recoil and ignore my critics, rather I go back to the drawing board to do a battle of ideas adapting relentlessly from the lessons of the past and the insight my honorable readers offer me when they criticize my works. It is an adjustment we must make continuously. World civilizations decline when a single opinion seek to dominate the others; leaders fail when they rely on a narrow group of advisers and people are led astray when they walk in locked steps behind a single ideology. It is these dangers you eventually fall into when you walk down the path of ignore lists. You need not look far into the possible end results of this nemesis than the conservative movement of America.

Once upon a time, the American media was thought to be liberal; this led to the creation (using of course the huge financial resources at their disposal) of various conservative media networks to counteract the liberal leaning of the so called left wing media. Rupert Murdoch amongst many including Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly were the Apostles of the new media. Conservatives across the land read only conservative authors, tuned in only to Fox News, worshipped only at conservative churches and even the Congress that used to operate as a consultative forum began to shut democrats and liberals out of important meetings where the directions of the country was decided. President Bush also bought into this philosophy; in his purist of the war against terror as he calls it, he surrounded himself with conservative advisors. Anyone that was not in was out; so called disloyal “rogue” cabinet members like Gen. Powell were dislodged. President Bush does not even read newspapers and he is proud of it. Iraq war was planned with little or no voice of dissent and today we pay the consequence.

The House of Gingrich collapsed beneath the weight of ignore lists. It happened to the Roman Empire; it happened to the British Empire, it can happen to the empire of your thought. Ignore lists destroy and it destroys the strength of your conviction, the rationality of your thoughts and the very basis of our genetic make up that ensures that we stay interconnected. Far worse than the ignore list however is our temptation to quiet those thoughts and expressions either by such vehement denunciation it shuts those who express them, or by just locking the thread. Yes, locking the thread is just an ignore list at the finger tips of the moderator or administrator. Good luck on that! Am I now on your ignore list? I hope I am not.

P.S: This piece is dedicated to Sabella Abidde, Reuben Abati, Pat Utomi and all seen and unseen critics out there. Let the jaw-jaw continue!

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