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SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES AND SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR AMONG STUDENTS OF SELECTED TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS IN KOGI STATE
1.1 Background of Study
With the advent of web 2.0 and the emergence of numerous social networking sites (SNSs) like Facebook, Whatsapp, Baddo, Flirtomatic, Myspace, Twitter, Blackberry Messenger (BBM), and 2go available today, the socialization patterns of young people have changed dramatically. These social networking sites are used to mediate personal interactions and communication, as well as provide youths with a powerful space for socializing, learning, and participating in public life. According to Livingstone and Brake (2010:75), people engage themselves in the use of Social Networking Sites to ‘reinvent their personalities, showcase their social lives and potentially increase their social circle, at least, in terms of acquaintances’.
Earlier studies have demonstrated that SNSs are widely embraced by the younger generation, variously labelled ‘Generation Y (Digital Natives and the Net Generation),’ (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005:2). This, McLoughlin and Burgess (n.d) noted, could be as a result of the fact that SNSs break down barriers at different levels, such as private and public space, learning spaces and social spaces, and informal and formal communication modes. The affordability of social networking sites gadgets like mobile phones and computers further enable communication among broad circles of contacts, locally and globally, and permit the combination of activities of e-mail, messaging, website creation, diaries, photo albums and music or video uploading and downloading.
Therefore, using social networking sites and the Web has come to be associated with creating as well as receiving content, exchanging photos, resources and files; with the user in control and the capacity to rip, mix and burn media to create new meanings, images and sound bytes that can be distributed to a global audience, (McLoughlin et al, n.d). This has also raised a lot of concern among observers on the social safety and health of youths who utilize the SNSs.
Although social networks may encourage positive relationships and the exchange of contents, research has shown that the technology revolution has opened up a seemingly limitless world of unmediated information and can be a powerful tool for the commission of crime especially that “the idea of online sharing has been successfully taken to the social and personal level” as observed by Embi, & Hassan (2012:56). Youths face social risks on these sites just as they do in any other public space in which people congregate. These risks could include sexual seduction and solicitation, harmful contacts, loss of privacy, bullying, harassment, and bad mentoring. For instance, Dowdell, Burgess and Flores (2011), observed that “social networking sites, aided by technology-induced anonymity have popularized sex”. This buttresses CyberAtlas (2001) assertion as cited in Brown (2002) that the “social media have increased dramatically the availability of sexually explicit/implicit content”.
Sexual talk and displays are increasingly frequent and explicit in this mediated world so much so that people are using the internet to form friendships and romances and to initiate inordinate affairs (Katherine, 2006 as cited in Longe, Chiemeke, Onifade and Balogun 2007:196). Therefore, ‘sex’ minded people are smarting on opportunities provided by SNSs to lure, solicit, and sexually exploit people. As such, “sexuality behaviour among students in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa is seriously going through transformation from what it used to be in the past”, (Ojo & Fasuba, 2005:112).
More recently, the use of social networking sites among students in Nigerian tertiary institutions and Kogi State to be specific has received wider attention in national, local and even international news media. This is as a result of increasing cases of sexual acts/abuse or ensuing crimes that are being masterminded and exploited via the instrumentality of SNSs, so much so that ‘it seems as though every week, there is a new search within the Nigerian social media sphere for a missing person, often students of tertiary institutions– from BBM to Twitter and the almighty Facebook” (Bella, 2012:3).
The above assertion and others, point to the level of laxity that not only characterizes the interaction modus on these social sites but also the laxity in the moral base of most of the users. Recently, Nigerian Newspaper pages were littered with stories of sexual relationship built on social networks with their tragic continuation off-line. The event leading to Cynthia Osokogu’s rape and death as captured by Bella (2012:2) below is a perfect example out of many other similar cases:
Cynthia had been chatting with some new friends on Facebook for a few months. In the course of their conversation, they developed a friendship and a level of trust. These young men were also university students; they seemed normal and promised to host Cynthia if she comes to see them in Lagos…
Also, popular “headlines” such as the following further summarizes the current trend in the use of SNSs among students in tertiary institutions; “Unilag Student Survives Deadly Attack by Facebook Friend after Sex Scuffle” (http://news2.onlinenigeria.com), Uniport Undergraduate Student’s Penis Multiplies after Sex with Hi5 Gay Lover (http://naijan.com), etc. We have also heard of gang rape involving students of tertiary institutions arising from the use of social networking sites like facebook and 2go.
The prevalence of these negative behaviours among students of tertiary institutions in Nigeria, which Kogi is a part of, has witnessed a steady rise over the past few years, as people take advantage of the anonymity in cyberspace to exploit themselves/their victims. This has continued to attract parents, scholars and media‘s attention (as seen in the literature review) to youths’ use of SNSs and as well as the relationship between the use of SNSs and the seemingly increasing sexual misbehaviour among students of higher institutions across the country.
1.2 Problem Statement
Social networking sites provide the users another social forum that is a bit distinct from the offline social environment where youths social activities could be monitored or controlled to some extent by their parents, guardians and so on. The level of privacy and freedom enjoyed on the SNSs pose a challenge to the moral upbringing of the present digital youth. This is especially so when viewed from the constant steady youth movement to these unrestricted and uncontrolled sites that offer them somewhat similar opportunities ever desired in the partly controlled offline environment.
To this end, there has been rising concern among parents, teachers, guardians, and other social activists on the sexual safety and health of youths who engage themselves in online social interactions and exchanges. Such fears are even aggravated by the steady increase in sexual transformation among students of tertiary institutions in Kogi state, as always reported by the mass media in some local newspapers and/or on the internet in recent time.
Although, research on young people’s use of social networking sites is beginning to accumulate, questions still remained yet unanswered regarding what exactly students of tertiary institutions in the state do on these sites and its influence on their sexual behaviours. Additionally, there seems to be a research gap on the exploration of the role of social networking sites in the transformation of sexuality among students in Kogi State. Therefore, this study is an attempt to bridge the research gap identified above using an empirical method.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
- To find out issues that dominate the interactions among students of tertiary institutions in Kogi State on SNSs.
- To ascertain the factors that attract the students to social networking sites for social purposes.
- To examine the aspects of sexuality portrayed on social networking sites.
- To find out if the sexual contents exchanged on SNSs influence how students in tertiary institutions in Kogi State behave sexually.
1.4 Research Questions
- What issues dominate the interaction among students of tertiary institutions in Kogi State on SNSs?
- What are the factors that attract the students to social networking sites for social purposes?
- Which aspects of sexuality are being portrayed on social networking sites?
- Do sexual contents exchanged on SNSs influence how students in tertiary institutions in Kogi State behave sexually?
1.5 Scope of the Study
While this study generally seeks to know the relationship between the use of social networking sites and sexual perversion among students of tertiary institutions in Nigeria, it is limited geographically to Kogi State. Social networking sites in this study will be limited to Facebook, 2go, Blackberry Messenger (BBM), and WhatsApp which happens to be among the most popular sites usually used by students in Nigerian tertiary institutions. Nonetheless, the tertiary institutions in this study include; Kogi State University (KSU), Anyigba; Federal Polytechnic Idah (FPI); and Federal College of Education (FCE), Okene. The study also consider only undergraduates of KSU; HND and ND students of FPI; and NCE students of FCE, Okene within the 2011/2012 academic session.
- Significance of the Study
SNSs, as an important resource of a virtual community are becoming widely spread than it has ever been before and it tends to be majorly accepted by the youths, with students of tertiary institutions as key constituents. It is hoped that this study would be useful to especially students and social networking sites developers.
The result of this study is expected to equip students with the necessary knowledge and education capable of helping them to guide against harmful contents and practices on the Social Networking Sites.
It will help the sites developers to further develop monitoring mechanism to guide against the exchange of sexually abusive contents among youths. Nonetheless, it will further enlighten and/or expose the inherent dangers on these sites to parents/guardians. This perhaps, can provide a basis for increased monitoring or enlightenment of their wards.
Above all, this study will provide additional knowledge and research materials on social networking sites and sexual behaviour among youths in the study area.
1.7 Limitations of the Study
The limitations of this research work include the following:
The sample population consists of only students of Tertiary Institutions in Kogi State. Though, our research focus is defined as such, it however has a major limitation, in that, results from here cannot be generalized to those who equally share in the risk of using SNSs; such as the youths and students outside the scope of the study.
The nature of the topic made generating of data a herculean task as respondents are reluctant to give relevant information that genuinely expresses their experiences in some cases. For instance, many of the