To share, or not to share, that is a daily question in new media environments. It is also one the architectural possibilities Web 2.0 platforms confront you with each time you are logged on to the explosion of data which makes home in virtual space. Linda Ikeji shares, much as the majority of Nigerian bloggers, social media users, and other ordinary citizens of Nigerian networked publics. Only that Linda shares for other reasons. Blogging her versions of the nation’s many struggles for meaning since 2007, Linda is however believed by many, in recent time though, to have gained online visibility through plagiary. This claim, which generated much fusses, and got Goggle to delete and later restore Linda’s blog, has been well analysed with lavish passion and effusive debates in the past week. Ayo Sogunro’s satirical letter to Linda, together with those of other online commentators, even sought a moral mapping of an online behaviour many others (in)advertently promote.
This last point continues to burden my mind, as it helps me reflect more on what I think may be a ubiquitous crisis of spectatoriality and online self-presentation in new media environments. Perhaps the best way to think of this is to consider the way our online activities make us the locus of their own affirmations. Whether it is an engaging critique of political crassness in Nigeria we post on Facebook, or we rouse a community of 140 angry characters to speak against corruption on Twitter, or we simply post a ‘selfist’ performance on Instagram, we are, most of the time, the organizing principle of our online narratives: we submit pictures and tag ourselves; we poke a friend, and also choose to, or choose not to direct conversations on threads we create. This is why you judge Linda Ikeji’s online presence by the number of followers she has; you are, even if you do not admit this, sensitive to folks who invade your timeline with dissenting views. You even care about the number of likes you get and take note of the celebrity follows you get. Online spectatoriality is you at the centre of consciousness in the data you create in cyberspace. It is spectatorship that reapprehends self for its own pleasure. for Fictional others might now be confined to the pages of print novels and the screens of Nollywood, while we ourselves identify as both characters and readers of our own fictive spaces. We spectate in our performances online. With spectatoriality, you insert self and agency into the orbits of the performance of poking, liking and following and commenting on the status updates of others. There are times other people save a humorous meme you have posted on Facebook in their device in order to repost it not as an extension of what you have shared but as a meme or video which originated from them.
We get the crisis I describe here when the reader is also the writer of texts, a situation which signifies itself as a computational evidence of some of the fascinating thoughts of such French philosophers as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. With Web 2.0 environments increasingly taking on more sophisticated apparatuses that enable online users to interact and engage with contents in (re)creative, and in a sense, de-creative ways, Alex Bruns describes the process at work in this fusion of readerly and writerly possibilities as produsage. Among other things, the term describes how data and knowledge formations in new media spaces are subject to the simultaneity of agency which users express with regard to the reproduction and usage of data or knowledge. With this process, what constitute ‘common knowledge’ becomes even as endless a debate as the diversely massive possibility of perspectives regarding open data. I believe all of these perspectives may relate to the way Linda Ikeji and (other) ‘plagiarists’ share data. The urge of mindless spectatoriality is the reason you like every post and share every update. Only that bloggers like Linda share the information of other people, since it is assumed to be open and free, for pecuniary feedback. Other people share to store or get information. Truth is, we all share. And by sharing we are only being human. Post-human. Or electronic human.
Consider also that the medium is one in which the order of knowledge takes up a structured essence. In other words, the medium largely structures not only behavior and identity, but also the way knowledge is produced and disseminated. Think of it this way; if you come across this present piece on Facebook and you disagree to certain points made, you are unable to dislike it. The best you might do is to look away to your newsfeeds for more important attractions since you are unable to actuate the performance of disliking the piece since Facebook hasn’t got that button yet. Also, for many of us who are still on Blackberry Messenger in Nigeria, you probably recall how DPs and PMs enable different possibilities of behaviour. Who has never ‘stolen’ the eye-catching DP of a friend for use only to remember later that they should have sought permission from an owner, who had probably stolen the same image from another source? Or think of the various times you have received from friends who never bother to verify the source of the content shared the same alarmist message about some spurious disease cure, or the more common ‘messages’ circulated in the behalf of notable religious leaders. You probably share such content partly because, among other things, the medium inspires you to do. When you think of what is at work here, you immediately realise you are in the hold of a medium reaffirms the prophetic insights of Marshall McLuhan: the message of the medium is the scale of impact or change which the medium inspires The medium is the message is therefore true to the extent that technology, more than ever before an extension of man, determines what you share, the way you share it, and the change it introduces into human affairs.
Should we then persecute Linda Ikeji because she shares online contents without permission? Well the answer appears to me as obvious. Smart users of social media tools and blogging affordances realise that sharing data as well as the larger culture of information remixing are major signifying features of new media, which enable us relocate ourselves from the once passive margins of traditional media to the more interactive centres of digital media; there we are the heartbeats of our own stories. This relocation also has copyrights implications. A final example. If a group of friends on a beach decides to have a group selfie (that is, if we think of a selfie as being constituted by a plurality of selves) and they use the camera of one of the friends, one may assume that copyright privileges go to each of the selves in the selfie, or perhaps the owner of the phone should reserve exclusive rights to it. In this private space, copyright becomes problematic. In Linda’s case, however, the space is more public and the online content, created by other people who reserve their right to the information they share, is subject to profit. That is even more problematic.
Let us then share as much as we can, but let us also refuse the tyranny of a medium that appears to have got us in its hold. Let us credit the source of the content we use. It is a great idea to use online contents that are licensed for sharing, and to ask for permission when in doubt. That it is on the Internet doesn’t mean it is meant to be shared without acknowledging the original producer when we can. Sharing without stealing is the right thing to do.