Monday, June 12, 2023

South Sudanese Facebook and Tik Tok: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Kuir ë Garang*


The social media is, as the English would say, a double-edge sword. For South Sudanese living abroad, Facebook Live and Tik Tok—the two most important avenues of our social media discourse—have become an-everyday reality. Intrusive but necessary, they have become an uncomfortable feature of our cultural and social landscape.

I’m intentionally ignoring Twitter. It’s the abode of pretenders, who think they are better, elites, intellectuals…! They think they are better than Facebookers. They say proudly, ‘I’m not on Facebook!’ That’s a topic for another day.

Facebook and Tik Tok make us laugh, sad, angry, confused, or indifferent. We use them to promote cultural events or fundraisers. We also use them to vent with uncharacteristic bitterness, expose people’s secrets (the post-relationship and post-friendship exposés), or declare enmity.

They are confusing. We complain about them, but we can’t stop watching them, or using them.

But we must admit some things. They are a moral problem and a good. Meaning, we can’t wish them away. Since the good doesn’t need to be fixed, it is the bad that we must address. That is true. In Logical Investigations, Edmund Husserl tells us that Truth is ‘eternal’. It’s not bound by time or a place. (You’re free to dispute this!)

If you use this social media duo [Tik Tok and Facebook] to spread positive social, cultural, and political messages, then kudos. Continue! We need you. That’s true. That’s eternal.

But here is the problem we must address. Insults.

We must address them not for what they mean to the community. That is easy. Any idiot in our community knows that Facebook Live and Tik Tok insults are moral harms and social wrongs. No reasonable person, even the foul-mouthed Facebooker, would say public insults on Facebook are a moral good.

What we must address as a community is the underlying problem, the unspoken. We tend to focus on the fact that so and so insults so and so. The question we must ask ourselves is: Why would a reasonable personal go live, his/her children in the house, and open a verbal artillery of the unspeakable? It’s not the visible that is the problem; it’s the invisible.

What happened to rɔ̈ɔ̈c ë guɔu (shame) and riëëu de rɔ (self-respect)? Why are people saying anything and everything that comes to mind publicly? There must be something deeper, something Freudian about the public insults. Why do the young men and women who vent publicly in the most grotesque of ways on social media believe this is the panacea? Of course, insults make us feel good.

Remember when we were kids and a certain son and daughter of a certain man beat you up. You’re weak and cannot compete so you use your mouth. After thirty seconds of hurling the most filth you can imagine on that son of a gun, you feel amazing! Sigh. But then you run! Run!

Of course, folks who unleash their smutty tirade know public insults are not the panacea for their problems. No matter the amount of vitriol they unleash on their targets, the problems will remain.

But then they feel good! Well, before their friends and relatives call to ask them to refrain.

But their insults play two roles. It gives them a chance to say: ‘I’m not the problem.’ For women, it also gives them the chance to speak. To use Spivak’s expression, women in our traditional communities are the subalterns who don’t speak.

A good wife (tik| tiŋ pieth/tiŋ nɔŋ piɔ̈u) or a good girl (nyaan pieth/nyaan nɔŋ piɔ̈u) doesn’t speak about her marital problems. A young South Sudanese female doctor recently said that women have been freed from the constraints of our tradition. They can no longer afford to be the non-speaking good girls or good wives, she argued. They’ve found a voice.

That sounds good. Worrying but understandable.

I must add something though. Since I’m not a medical professional, I’ll ask our health professionals some questions.

Is there a mental health, trauma element to this?

There is normal venting or speaking out your truth. But then there is scotch-earth, full-blown, leaving-nothing-to-the-imagination paroxysm. Is there something we can do as a community to help people vent respectfully? How can we validate venters, especially women, without normalizing harmful Facebook videos?

What our people don’t realize is this. Venting on the social media, however deceptively privately or reasonable it appears, is like going to the shopping mall full of people and screaming one’s frustration standing on top of a table on the food court. Imagine that. Imagine it for a moment. You may say it is not the same; but it is.

Like it or not, the social media is here to stay. All we must do is to minimize its harm and maximize its usefulness. But if we don’t go to the roots of the problem that make people vent publicly without any ounce of retrain, then we shouldn’t complain about any filth on Tik Tok and Facebook.

The great danger to public venting is this: They are social harms that make some people heard, and self-validating. ‘I will not be ignored!’ is the message.

South Sudanese community ‘leaders’ and health professionals, this is your challenge. The likes of Kuirthiy can only write!


Kuir ë Garang is the editor of the TPR. 


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