Social media: Saving our own skin

phoneJokes have been told of our social-media-smart-phone crazy world. That a drowning child is more likely to drown today than before because potential rescuers will rather reach for their smart phones and busy their fingers taking pictures of the incident to update their status on social media rather than lifting a finger to help.

I was saddened recently when a friend died in a car accident and the person who arrived the scene first, sent me unsolicited pictures of his battered remains. I did not want to be assaulted by such pictures. I had wanted the last memories of my friend to be those of his dignified and gentlemanly presence. I knew my departed friend would have been appalled by this. I was.

If the dead could speak, they would scream at us for violating their dignity by posting pictures of their battered remains, due to terrorist attacks, auto-accidents, pipe-line explosion, air crashes, or any of the other vagaries that life throws at our fragile and mortal bodies. They would remind us that it is inhuman, uncharitable and irreligious to disrespect them that way. And for most African cultures, it is an abomination to treat the dead with such disrespect and lack of reverence.

There are reasons why cultures around the world have very dignified and respectful ceremonies, customs and traditions around the remains of a dead person. These are not by accident. The way we treat the dead, is often a picture of the way we treat the living. When we fail to respect the dead, sooner or later, that lack of dignity and respect will find its way to the living. Little wonder some publicly run morgues around the country, and their treatment of the remains of the dead is a tell-tale and pointer to the treatment of the living. It was Mahatma Gandhi who once cautioned that “the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” If our current attitude toward the dead, arguably our weakest members, is anything to go by, then, we still have a very long walk to civilization ahead of us.

Furthermore, when we put up the picture of the dead on social media, we actually give some of the social media outfits the right to trade these pictures to third party companies. Yes, this is in the fine print legal agreement you failed to read thoroughly and mindlessly “agreed” to with a click of the mouse. Imagine suddenly discovering that a beloved sibling or friend has passed on by stumbling upon their charred remains on the pages of a social media outfit, as it is being used to advertise life insurance, organ donation, caskets, a morgue, a funeral home, etc. Come to think of it, do the dead not have rights? Do we have to stoop so to dehumanize our own departed, just so that we drive traffic to our sites and gain a moment of fleeting fame? Using the dead in this manner is so un-African, so inhumane, so uncharitable, and so totally irreligious.

Recently, the way the pictures of some four nuns, and some six young men who died in auto accidents were treated, and commented on, on social media, is an indictment not only on the individuals that uploaded such pictures, but also those that accommodated them on their sites and the social media outfits that hosted and harboured them. It portrayed them as insensitive, unconsciounable, unethical and willing to go to any length to drive traffic to their sites. Those women were daughters of mothers and fathers. Those young men were brothers, uncles, cousins and friends of people like us.

So, when next a contact or ‘friend’ on our social media network sends or posts unflatering pictures of the dead, let us do something about it. It is our responsibility. Let us caution and educate them. If we are in a position to do so, let us ensure we do not patronize their unethical or callous behaviour with advertising contracts. If we are tech-savvy, let us report the abuse to the appropriate authorities. And better still, let us delete or hide those pictures. We will never ever go wrong in treating the dead with respect. We might actually be saving our civilization, and our own skin by so doing.
• Ugo Nweke lives and works in Lagos.

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