‘Many a man’ said Speers’ ‘has been haunted by the nightmare that one day; nations might be dominated by technical means’. These nightmares have almost been realized by several dictatorial governments; almost, but not quiet. Most governments even those in earlier centuries did not have the time, and perhaps the intelligence or necessary knowledge to achieve such a feat. Even the Nazi’s under Adolf Hitler, whose government Speers was Minister for Armaments.
In modern times however, governments do not have to brainwash, they only have to distract. To keep the masses completely engaged in trivialities that prevent them from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation. The News media has somewhat consciously or unconsciously taken a step ahead of the government to tap into the insatiable appetite for distractions of over a hundred million people, a goldmine.
In the past most people never got a chance of fully satisfying this appetite. They might long for distractions, but the distractions were not provided. Christmas came but once a year, feasts were “solemn and rare,” there were few readers and very little to read, and the nearest approach to gathering was the Catholic Church, where the performances, though frequent, were somewhat monotonous. Imperial Rome however went rather further. There the populace was kept in good humor by frequent, gratuitous doses of many kinds of entertainment. Poetical dramas, Gladiatorial fights, Recitations of Virgil, All-out boxing, Military Reviews and even Public Executions. But even in Rome there was nothing like the non-stop distraction now provided by Newspapers and Magazines, by Radio, Television and the all new Social Media.
These seemingly un-explored weapons, in the hands of un-organized groups in developing countries have displaced previous activities of governments to create just the sufficient amount of distraction. In general the radicalism often observed in constant policy changes which displace the masses, religious institutions and organizations that tackle idealistic problems, political statements from radical groups, the harnessing of ethnic and religious tensions, and the never ending drama by the multiple political parties.
Perhaps the depth of mass communication effects is yet unknown to those in charge of these developing counties, perhaps it is becoming obvious. Unlike the blind and inconsistent work of the past, a great deal of work has been carried out in those fields of applied psychology and neurology which are the special province of mass communication. In the past these specialists in the art of changing people’s minds were empiricists. By a method of trial and error they had worked out a number of techniques and procedures, which they used very effectively without, however, knowing precisely why they were effective. Today the art of mind-control is in the process of becoming a science. The practitioners of this science know what they are doing and why. They are guided in their work by theories and hypotheses solidly established on a massive foundation of experimental evidence.
For a developing country like Nigeria, one would expect that given the awareness of the profound diversity, the setting up of platforms necessary to control to a certain degree the volume and direction of information flow would be of critical importance. It however looks like pockets of interest seeking groups have taken the show. Nonetheless, these groups however incoherent their approach have been able to unconsciously (or perhaps consciously) provide just the right amount of distraction to the ever information hungry masses. Any government among developing countries which takes advantage of a growing desire by its people to be entertained via news outlets will no doubt have secured their position to an advantageous degree. The crucial roles played by Social Media in displacing governments which failed to see their relevance is clearly sufficient evidence for all.
Clearly Mass communication, in itself, is neither good nor bad; it is simply a force and, like any other force, it can be used either well or ill. Used in one way, the press, the radio and all Social Media outlets are indispensable to the survival of democracy. Used in another way, they are among the most powerful weapons in the dictator’s armoury.
In developed countries of the western world, the people and their governments have struck a traditionally reasonable balance in the use of the media. Third American President and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson clearly argued that, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be. . . . The people cannot be safe without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.” But even Jefferson did not anticipate countries would exploit the press to their use in the coming World Wars, or that countries in Africa such as Somalia would employ the press in the genocide of over 800,000 Tutsis ranking among the worst atrocities ever.