How young people in Sierra Leone can lead the world in a safe, online political discourse.

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Sierra Leone particularly is at risk for two main reasons:

1) Illiteracy levels: at 60% illiteracy levels, most youth cannot read. However, this number placed in the context that beyond reading, analytical critical thinking is what is most essential is the real issue. If people cannot analyze what they “read”; cannot verify or have the tools to verify what is fact and what is false news; are not aware of photoshop or video editing through AI, needless to mention how to discern or check for it; then there’s potential to spread so much hate and misinformation, incite distrust, violence, and hate. This is so because humans ultimately react with emotion first before analyses. And in a workd driven who’s first to post, analyses misses out.

2. 70% youth unemployment rates. Often when unemployment is mentioned the availability of time- essentially infinite time isn’t a focus. But time coupled with the ability to engage with online content without the right training, guidance, skills, and wherewithal could be dangerous. Unemployment leads to time (idle time) to share, and engage with the rest of the world with little effort.

The combination of a lack of critical thinking, unemployment and abundance of time mean that we must pause and come up with a plan. For the religious, even the bible says that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. I will modify to say that an idle mind online without critical thinking skills is the devil’s workshop, tools, and evil plans written in automated code all in one.

So what do we do? 5 simple steps:

1. Before you forward, pause and breathe. Then spend 1 min searching online (use google search to see if it is true). It saves you embarrassment from sharing a photo from 2000 in some other country as what’s happening in your neighborhood today. Or better yet, pick up the phone and ask the person who sent it to you or is the author about their source.

2. Ask 3 questions. Before sharing, entering into an emotional online fight, first, ask questions. Your energy is vital to preserving it. A) Ask who shared it and who is the original source; B) Ask for the facts and opinions used; C) Ask why it was shared to you or why you want to share it (how does it benefit you or the recipient)

3. Talk to people. Scratch that, listen to people. I beg your pardon, I meant, hear people. A danger with online discourse is that we are all talking past each other. Everyone is right, everyone trusts their source without doing steps 1 and 2 and no one hears the other. We must perhaps have to lead by example on this one particularly when we have 99.99% conviction that we are correct. Allow for the 0.01%

4. Apologise more. It takes one comment for a safe online discussion to get vile. Saying sorry, my bad… is the antidote to many things if not everything. I am sorry.

5. Even when you are right, you don’t have to be right. This is the toughest one perhaps. Sometimes, it is ok to not be right. Its a learning opportunity for others and that’s the right thing to do.

So back to Sierra Leone:

Bintumani 3- this was perhaps the most important forum to practice most of these things. To engage in public discourse, to vent and be heard; to listen; to hug it out. But we missed the opportunity. Well, that’s unfair. A few missed the opportunity. But since B3 only started a process, I hope our discourse evolves. I hope everyone engages with the released communique and support the set up and success of the Commission.

On matters of the constitution, everyone should read it. The pledge too. Just like we read our commitments to our religious faiths daily or weekly, we perhaps should read the national pledge.

It is our responsibility to read the specific Acts of Parliament and Court Judgements before having opinions on opinions that are based on unsupported opinions. We actually can get pretty much any document if we use our Right to Access Public Information.

For example, how many people actually read the entirety of the Elections Act and saw/read the judgment of the judge before sharing whichever views they did? It’s not enough to care and have an opinion- it’s your responsibility to engage with evidence and full understanding. Yes, that includes the constitution which asks for the independence of the judiciary, executive and legislative arms of government. When we make calls for the President to do A, B, C for example, are we aware we are encouraging him to do something that might be contrary to obeying the constitution, are we conscious of how we ourselves weaken the systems? What role do we as citizens and civic actors play in strengthening our institutions?

There’s a space in London called Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. Its where people go every Sunday to have public discussions.

Discussions with respect, not of or for agreement. Perhaps we need a speakers corner in our lives- both physical and digital. I don’t know what the rules are or if there must be rules but this isn’t working. And it’s our civic responsibility to fix it.