Shaming Political Opponents: Extreme Speech and Scandal on a Nigerien Social Networking Site
AbstractThis paper examines the nature and characteristics of extreme speech and opprobrious language presented in a Nigerien online setting, a Facebook page called “Affaire des bébés importés”, (Herein “Affaire des bébés importés” is translated from French to English, and the comparable term, “Baby-trafficking scandal Facebook page,” is then used for clarity), by examining a series of events framed as “the baby-trafficking scandal”. These events gave rise to a myriad of linguistic inventions (jokes, insults, satire, cartoons, and different forms of humor). These had as their main intent an undermining of the moral authority of a political leader who was opposing the current government. The argument defended in the paper is the following: In countries like Niger, which are characterized by a fragile social cohesion and deep-seated ethnic rivalries, scandalizing adversaries through opprobrious language or extreme speech is more than an online expression of group divisions; it is also an avenue for transnational and deterritorialized communities to assert themselves in the political life of their countries of origin, thereby significantly altering the sharing of political authority. Actors involved in scandalizing activities use stigmatization, degradation, transgression, character assassination and other such attempts to undermine someone’s reputation. The paper is based on a qualitative analysis of videos, comments, and texts posted mainly on the Facebook page “Baby-trafficking scandal”. This paper uses the term “opprobrious language” as it was theorized by J. B. Thompson in his book, Political Scandal: Power and Visibility in the Media Age, Polity Press, 2000. The Facebook page "Affaire des bébés importés” can be found at : https://www.facebook.com/Affaire-Des-B%C3%A9b%C3%A9s-Import%C3%A9s-Au-Niger-277362069115861/posts/?ref=page_internal Seemingly, all posts, comments, captions, newspapers quotations, etc. have been translated from French into English by the author. Niger is a French-speaking country and most related written, visual, audio information is in French.