The Proliferation Of Disinformation, Cyber Bullying And Hate Speech In Cameroon’s Entertainment Industry Through The Social Media

INTRO

The Cambridge dictionary defines a celebrity as someone who is famous especially within the entertainment business. Over the years in Cameroon, there has been an increase of celebrities ranging from comedians, musicians, influencers, presenters, filmmakers, and many others. The industry seems to be witnessing a blossom which contributes to the socio-economic growth of the country. However, the entertainment industry, particularly on social networks, is now a breeding ground for disinformation and hate speech. UNESCO defines disinformation as “information that is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organization or country”. Also, cyber bullying is defined by the European commission as repeated verbal or psychological harassment carried out by an individual, or a group against others through online services. The attacks in the entertainment industry on some occasions go beyond the corridors of cyber bullying and extends to hate speech. The United Nations defines hate speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior that attack or use pejorative and discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in order words based on their religion, ethnicity, color, descent, nationality or identity factor”. Social media has become a great market place for the entertainment industry, but asides it’s socio-economic benefits, it has also facilitated some negative trends with several escalated online conflicts recorded in the industry. Following research and data gathered between June and October 2023, this report hence seeks to establish how the entertainment milieu is contributing to Disinformation, cyber bullying and hate speech on the social media space and how it affects the socio-political and economic stability of the country.

BODY

  • FAKE NEWS

In the early hours of July 6 2023, reports surfaced online confirming the demise of Popular web comedian Mfegue Leonard, commonly known as Samy Lenwr. Sources noted that he was involved in a road accident on July 1st around Kribi in the South region, but gave up the ghost in Yaoundé after undergoing an operation on his arm. When news of his death broke out, Samy Lenwr’s baby mama raised suspicion online, indicating that after the accident in Kribi, the deceased was transferred to the CNPS Hospital in Yaounde without the consent of his family. Indicating that the family was not aware of the operation and Samy has a missing kidney. Generally, she and many social media fanatics pointed fingers to Carimo. And this caused a frenzy online with some denizens even opining that Samy was never involved in an accident, but was used for money rituals and his kidney sold.

These rumors only subsided when a closed circuit television (CCTV) footage was released by a commercial bank revealing the record of events at the accident sceneIn addition to this, the CNPS hospital released a communique revealing the true occurrences of events, debunking the rumors of missing kidneys. The document went further to reveal that Samy signed a consent form before his surgery in the company of his partner as opposed to social media rumors.

In June 2023, Cabrel Nanjip, a comedy sensation died from an accident between the Edea -Pouma road. Pastors and supposed seers made posts on social media attributing his demise to cultism, they indicated that he died because he belonged to a cult, without any supporting evidence to prove so. Kwoh Elonge known mostly by stage and comedy name “Aunti Felicia” made a Facebook upload indicating the rumors that have spread from Cabrel’s death, also analyzing how the hard work and efforts of a young man has being watered to the drain due to rumors and fake news, and how escalating rumors arising from the death of celebrities is slowly becoming a culture in the industry.

The spread of fake news in the entertainment industry is not a recent matter, it is a trend which has been observed over the years, looking back at other cases such as the accident and death of Cameroonian musician Fhish in December 2021 which sparked off disinformation. Discussions have sparked off both offline and online regarding controversial stories that surface when popular figures get involved in accidents, and even when popular figures get involved in clashes. It is a trend that has been tracked not only in Cameroon but in some other African countries and needs to be tackled, hence it spreads like wildfire, consuming socio-political and developmental endeavors. In the words of Jimmy Gomez, an American politician, “when fake news is repeated, it becomes difficult for the public to discern what is real ”.

  • ATTACK ON PERSONALITY AND HATESPEECH 

In August 2023, popular Tv Presenter Darling Lyonga uploaded a job announcement on her Facebook page, the job description required a videographer, editor and graphic designer for a probation salary of 50,000. In the comment section of that post, Cameroonian rapper commented “effects of depending on male sponsors, start a side business dear”, this has been perceived as an attack on Lyonga’s personality insinuating Lyonga’s success in her career is linked with male sponsors. Reacting to that comment, Darling Lyonga attacked and rained insults on Tilla in a post that has been deleted, she stated that Tilla has failed in here music career and retired to her village. 

The reaction of Lyonga further sparked off virtual attacks and sentiments of hate speech. Given that Tilla resides in Bamenda, bloggers interpreted that Lyonga called Bamenda a village, regarding it as hate speech. Xenophobic Posts and comments made by Darling Lyonga in December 2020 were dug up and shared online by several blogs, creating more tension and provoking more speeches of hate. On the request of some blogs, fans attacked Lyonga online, blocked and reported her page. A case in point is a post uploaded by a blogger and influencer; Clement Toh. The post which asked fans to unfollow and block Darling Lyonga garnered 1.5k likes, 1.4k comments, 47 shares with some denizens attacking Lyonga with threats of a physical attack as well. In a twinkle of an eye, it became a conflict between Northwest and South west. This situation not only provoked hate speech and attack on personality, it also led to disinformation. Some blogs shared Lyonga’s post of 2020 in a false context, they didn’t highlight that it was an old post, they rather made it look like the posts were made in the context of the present rift between Lyonga and Tilla.

Satire and sarcasm are also becoming a trend in the Cameroon entertainment sphere, a form of art which is used to expose and ridicule certain vices and topics using humor, But if communicated in a too technical manner or wrong way could achieve negative results. Cameroonian Social media Influencer, Dr Menjo is noted for using satirical and sarcastic statements and comments to highlight certain issues in the industry and the country as a whole, a consistent trend also noted with him is that, the Nso community commonly called Banso has in most occasions being the subject of his sarcasm. Such sarcastic statements has provoked conflict in the comment sections with some denizens and Nso natives expressing their displeasure, such sarcastic comments have the tendency to provoke hate speech and xenophobia amongst communities as demonstrated in the pictures below.

These statements of sarcasm and satire is further fueled to cause conflicts by bloggers who continuously share such posts, giving it further relevance. A case in point of a post shared on November 2022 by 237 palava, the blog shared a post of Dr Menjo who made a sarcastic post still with the Banso people being one of the main subjects. The blog post garnered 550 likes, 281 comments, 6 shares. In the comment section, some Nso persons highlighted their vexation with the post while others took the opportunity to insult the Nso people. At a fragile moment as this when Cameroon is faced with an armed conflicts in the English speaking regions, coupled with inter-tribal conflicts in most regions in the country, traces of hate speech are detrimental and may further escalate xenophobia and conflicts.

 As concerned to cyber bullying in the entertainment industry, one glaring example is the 80-20 campaign, a campaign which fights for the valorization of Cameroonian contents by pushing for 80 percent consumption of Cameroonian products and services and 20 percent of foreign ones, a concept which has been received with mixed feelings amongst Cameroonians, with some against it and some criticizing the main crusader Cy international and his method of approach. Cy international on several occasions have attested to being a victim of hate speech and bullying, In a recent post of September 30, Cy international took to his Facebook page to express it had extended to life threatening messages.  Even though a victim, CY international too has participated in attacking personalities of persons and spread of hate speech. In a Facebook post of July 9, Cy international praises and gave accolades to Cameroonian actress Syndy Emade, he used the same appreciation writeup to sabotage another lady whose name was not mentioned but many suspected to be Stephanie Tum, an actress with whom he recently had a conflict with. In the post he labelled the unidentified lady a “slave girl” who keeps company with scammers and is excellent in defaming the characters of others. Another case in point was in April 2022 when Cy international uploaded a post, and a Facebook user by name Chombeng Allen commented that he should correct his grammatical errors before posting online, Cy later on replied to the comment by mentioning Allen’s mother in a subtle insult. As a clapback Chombeng Allen in turn insulted CY, his mother’s and siblings, he indirectly termed Cy’s mother and sisters prostitutes, indicating that they sleep with men for a bag of rice. In this case, the attack did not end with Cy and Allen, the family members of both were dragged into the attack, people who were not part of the scuffle from the initial stage.

In the case of Samy lenwr (as mentioned above in page 1, paragraph 2) a social entrepreneur popularly known as Carimo boss lady was at the center of the controversy with several attacks directed towards her personality accusing her of killing Samy and using him for money rituals to grow her wealth. To vindicate her name, Carimo hosted a live with over 3000 Cameroonians watching which has been deleted, where She debunked the false information, also stating the effect of the rumors in her wellbeing and that of her family. It was only after the prevalence of a CCTV footage and hospital statement(as mentioned above ) that her name was cleared, with some denizens apologizing. Meanwhile in the case of Cabrel Nandjip (also mentioned above in page 2, paragraph 2  ), the character of a dead man was attacked as he was accused for being responsible for his death due to his involvement in cultism.

The internet never forgets, so an attack on people’s s personalities can greatly affect the mental health of victims and their families for a very long time, a point which has been buttressed in several discourses. A case study of Catherine Kolonko’s article of July 8 2020, titled; “The mental health impacts of cyber bullying and how to cope”.  Cyber bullying can also pose adverse effects on the businesses and career paths of victims which goes a long way to hinder development. In the case where the deceased becomes the focus of attacks, their memories are disrespected and the healing process for the families prolonged. 

Conclusion.

The entertainment industry is gaining huge grounds in Cameroon contributing to the country’s development and influencing the lifestyle of the population. Hence the spread of fake news and hate speech in the entertainment sphere affects not just the milieu but provides a fertile ground for further spread of fake news and hate speech in other sectors which can affect the peace and stability of the country. The article “countering hate speech and fake news on social media” suggests that hate speech and fake news are serious issues that goes beyond the virtual boundaries of social media platforms, they affect both the social media platforms and the communities in which they are used. In the article “How Disinformation Deepens hate among Nigerians” Hamza Ibrahim details the relation between Fake news and Hate speech and how it fuels conflict in a Multi-ethnic and religious country like Nigeria, a country which is quite synonymous to Cameroon in terms of cultural and religious diversity.

Recommendations

It is recommended that entertainers, influencers and bloggers be sensitized and cautioned on fake news and hate speech. Because most times fake news is even propagated by the entertainers themselves, with some unaware of the consequences. 

The entertainers should also caution their fans to not spread fake news or hate speech when defending and showing their love for them.

Whether a celebrity or not, as individuals we should be cautious of whatever information we put online, because an information uploaded on the internet can hunt one years later as the case with Darling Lyonga. The internet never forgets.

The government should invest and ensure that forensics becomes a culture not just for high profiled cases but also in normal circumstances. It will go a long way to curb “hear says” and hence assist in curbing Disinformation.

It is also recommended that government authorities should invest more in the quality of the roads and emergency medical response mechanisms for accident situations.

By Jabi Katy, Shantal Ndowah 

Africa Fact checking Cameroon Cohort 8

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