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Tosin Nghuer: Social Media & the Right to Dignity of the Person

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Advances in information communication technology and the advent of the social media has brought about the discovery of a number things it can achieve and its capacity to disseminate information which can reach millions of people all over the world at the same time. We are now exposed to so much knowledge and information that it is a wonder that the human brain can consume such amount of knowledge, without exploding.

I have known and participated in social media for a couple of years, although the days of sending and receiving emails in business centers precede that. When I started my sojourn into the world of social media, it was with the excitement and caution of a child learning to walk for the first time. I was not sure of what to expect or what I would stumble upon. Trust me, I stumbled into a lot of stuff: from the good, to the bad and to the ugly.

These days, social media has become bigger with so many websites and blogs created and many are still being created on a daily basis, each tailored to cater for the needs of different kinds of people from all over the world. Right now we have the most popular social media sites being Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkdin and recently Snapchat and a host of other sites. Online dating sites are also available and tailored to suit the needs and fantasies of various persons.

Nigeria is not left behind in this social media trend. As a matter of fact, one can comfortably say because of her population, Nigeria has the highest number of social media users in Africa. The recently concluded Big Brother Africa reality show saw millions of Nigerians interacting on social media, supporting their preferred housemates (#teamEfe #teamBisola, #Bossnation) and casting their respective votes for them.
Social media has also brought good popularity to some people who otherwise would be unknown and their respective talents hidden, e.g. is Toke Makinwa and a host of others including (I hate to mention this) Bobrisky! 😀

On social media, people post photos and videos of themselves and other people carrying out all kinds of activities; from the normal to the outrageous. We have seen it all!

Last year (2016) can easily be said to have witnessed the largest social media boom since its arrival. We all love the Internet because it has made life so much easier and the world smaller than it used to be. I sometimes wonder how we survived before the Internet and social media. Funny thing is, even back then, I didn’t think life was boring, as we had our own limited activities that kept us occupied- ten- ten, hopscotch, hopping from house to house visiting etc.

As much as we love social media and all the good things it offers, we shouldn’t forget the bad things it brings as well.

We have seen where some people post videos of themselves or other persons committing crimes and all sorts of abuses or atrocities against others. What most people don’t realise is that doing this sometimes constitute a violation of the right to dignity of person(s), which is fundamental to all other rights, it can arguably be said that most human rights derive from human dignity, as it is the core of human rights law. This is why it is a fundamental right enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution; Section 34(1) states that:
“Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly –
(a) no person shall be subject … to inhuman or degrading treatment”
Dignity is defined as:

“An individual or group’s sense of self-respect and self-worth, physical and psychological integrity and empowerment.”

Inhuman or degrading treatment happens when someone is treated in a way that is both humiliating and debasing, making them feel less than their worth. It is even worse when a person is debased and then photos or videos of the act splashed all over the social media.

When one is stripped of their dignity, which makes the core of the person’s existence, it is very difficult to get the person back to the place of self worth. This is why this is a fundamental right which international, regional and local laws recognise and places as important.

In the process of sharing information and/or getting likes or traffic to their sites, some social media sites/blogs post photos or videos that can be said to humiliate the subject of the story.
It is worse when such a person is an innocent party like a child who knows nothing. One is then left to wonder if exposing a victim of abuse in a degrading way is of any use to him/her.
I might also add that neither does it add to the evidence against the perpetrator. All that happens is the dignity of the person whose picture or video has been publicly displayed is violated.

There have been many videos and photos of children being molested, girls being raped and assaulted, men being beaten and stripped naked for crimes they were alleged to have committed and said videos posted on the social media. This does not in any way make the situation better. Instead, it causes further trauma to the person who was abused and makes our society indifferent to human dignity and respect for sanctity of the human.

We might ask why will the citizens respect human dignity when even the law enforcement agencies don’t? The same law enforcement agents who are meant to protect these rights carry out a lot of disrespectful acts against citizens. We have seen a number of cases where they strip alleged suspects and beat them up for offences committed against them, for which the law has clearly provided processes of arrest and charging of suspects.
I will answer that by saying that we have the power to call the law enforcement and military to order, by reporting them and not emulating them.

As a matter of fact there has been several cases of errant officers/soldiers being disciplined for assault and battery of civilians. This means their leadership realizes that it is wrong and that there are consequences for such actions. We still have a long way to go, but if we as citizens show our abhorrence for wrongs done to us by power holders, rather than following them, then the leaders will think twice before doing such. This applies to every aspect of governance and not just concerning dignity of human person.

Our lives and our bodies are important and should be treated as such. It is a different case if one willingly bares him/herself, at least it was done willingly. In any case no one will put himself out there in a debased or humiliated state, unless it’s a specific cry for help.

We all need to exercise control before we post anything on the social media, especially when it has negative effects on the bodily integrity of another person.

We need to sit back, think and ask these questions before we post stuff on social media (not exhaustive):

i. Is this post useful or fair to the victim i.e. will this help the victim access the needed help?

ii. Is it going to get the perpetrator apprehended to face justice?

iii. Is it just to gain popularity or traffic to the blog?

iv. Will it enlighten, educate or inform the audience or is it just for entertainment?

v. If tables were turned will you like to be the one in that picture or video?

Have a blessed week and enjoy the rest of your day!

Photo Credit: Kadettmann | Dreamstime.com

Tosin Nguher is a lawyer who specializes in international human rights law, she blogs occasionally on her blog tosnesworld.com. She believes that when humans are given equal opportunities in life, there is a better chance of achieving real development. She works with a human rights organisation and is currently based in Abuja.

6 Comments

  1. Mufasa

    April 24, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    Nice write up buddy. Hope folks have a proper think before posting stuff online.

  2. Tob

    April 24, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Criminal code v. Constitutional right. Here in lies the critical difference. The constitution grants the right to human diginity. However, violations of this right may not be specifically written to the criminical code, which states out criminal statutes, offenses, and consequences. Therefore, in as much as it is morally reprehensible to violate someone else’s right to human dignity. Unless specific criminal statues are also violated (e.g. assault, battery, etc.), there is no crime. It is just a civil case that belong in the court of equity, along with torts like libel and slander.
    Dear Author, please educate those of who did not get the non-lawyers and lawyers trained outside Nigeria. What enforcement powers does the Nigerian constitution provide for this right?

    • Tosnesblog

      April 25, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Thank you for your obsèrvation. Let me attempt to explain by saying that A human right is personal to the person whose right is violated and this person can get civil redress against a violator. Also, it can also be a crime against the state which makes a violator criminally liable and the state can prosecute him or her. Now the constitution guarantees the right to dignity of human person and who violates this right can be held liable in a civil suit which provides redress to the one whose right has been violated. Apart from this the criminal code prohibits publication of obscene materials and provides that whoever does so will be convicted and sentenced to 3 yrs imprisonment. Also, defamation is a crime, proscribed by the criminal code too with punishment. While the criminal code does not directly state that whoever violates a persons right to dignity will be punished, the act that causes such dignity to be violated is punishable by the law ie publishing obscene and defamatory material. I hope this helps. Feel free to ask more questions, send to [email protected]

  3. Adepeju

    April 24, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    This is quite enlightening. Nice write up.

  4. Tolu

    April 24, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Very nicely written article and this is an article that should be circulated to as many people as possible. We need to learn and put others into consideration before putting our acts forward on social media.

  5. Olamide

    April 25, 2017 at 7:30 am

    So on point.” If the tables were turned will you like to be the one in that picture or video “

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