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Understanding the Media You Use – Part 1

There is a phenomenon of each social medium having a seemingly distinct group of audiences that is worth highlighting in relation to media and information literacy. If you are averagely active on Twitter, you may have seen some tweets that suggest how Twitter users relate differently to content (albeit uncharitable, in this case) on the platform. 

In observing the reaction to cross-posted photos on Twitter and Instagram, some users have acknowledged an unfriendly reception to celebrities’ photos on Twitter contrasting the warm reception of Instagram users to those same photos. In a Ghanaian context, a user had this to say about a Ghanaian singer, “Funny how Wendy Shay gets all the nice comments on Instagram but negative comments on Twitter. Most people on Twitter are just bitter, and a bunch of cyberbullies and it’s not even funny…” In a Nigerian context, a user remarked a similar occurrence with a Nigerian actor, “Lol Twitter people are not nice. Tobi Bakre posted this same picture on Instagram and his comment section is filled with love and light. But no, you people here just have to show yourselves.” In a totally different context on a similar subject, a user gave this explanation, “Not to say I don’t hit the heart button to a nice picture, but for me, Twitter is about engagement, Instagram is about the likes…” 

Though this user’s personal reason may not be a general justification for some people’s bluntness about photos on Twitter, it further opens up the discussion on social media and its seeming distinct audiences and their responses to content to be situated in the discourse of media and information literacy. Beyond consuming information (through text, photo, video, or audio), identifying the functionality of the medium, its major distinct features, how it enables users to communicate and how users consequently use them is paramount. This is critical, more so because failing to understand a medium’s purpose and functionality can transform the information on those channels to manifest as a kind of information disorder. 

What happened with a TikTok video originating from Kenya which Dubawa had to provide context and clarity to some Nigerian audiences was an example of this. In July 2021, a Kenyan TikTok satirical video found its way on other social media platforms and was believed by a number of the Nigerian community on WhatsApp and Instagram to be a desperate feminist begging for a husband.

Peace Lois Mbae, a Kenyan TikToker who at the time the video was produced identified as a content creator on satire, commentary, and comedy, produced a 1-minute 45-second TikTok skit where she is seen crying and denouncing her previous feminist ideologies, pleading for a husband, and stating that she would serve and obey him as a wife should. In the comment section of the video on TikTok, a good number of users understood the video to be satire, and the content producer is also seen confirming to audiences that it was satirical. But this intent appears to have been missed when the video surfaced on other channels. 

An article on Pocket-Lint explains the functionality of TikTok. It states that users can create videos of themselves by lip-syncing, dancing, or acting skits. The features on TikTok also enable video editing and customization, where users have access to different songs, filters, sound bites; are able to duet with others by replying to a video, creating a split-screen and reactions, or adding their own sounds and lip-syncing to videos of others. If these basic features are not known, there is a tendency to misinterpret a number of videos originating from TikTok. The need for media and information literacy can not be overemphasized. 

Because we are presented with a host of content on different information outlets, asking basic yet critical questions such as “What is the purpose of this medium I am on, and what typically happens here? With the present medium I am using, do I find this information out of place on the platform? Who is sharing this information? What are the facts available in comparison to this new information I am receiving? How do I react to such information given the facts available about the information being received?” can be very helpful.

Answering such questions goes a long way to processing the varied information found online; how to receive them, how to engage with them, and how to consequently apply them…   to be continued…

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