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You are here: HomeThe Ethiopian HeraldEditorial - View PointSignificance of social media for revival of democracy

Significance of social media for revival of democracy

Mr. Paschal Chem

 

Now-a-days, social media has increasingly simplified the process of communication among people. Though it simplifies the process of human interaction in day-to-day activities, it's invaluable role in the rising democracy is merely unconsidered. And even if someone tries to discuss such issues on line, it is widely perceived as a trial run to imprint political propaganda. Most of the time, people communicate through social media for issues of no relevance; and surprisingly they prefer to do this with their friends of similar interest. Or choose an issue that can only entertain themselves for which they get acknowledgement from their friends.

Defamation, libel and illustration that ostensibly embrace individuals is expanding in the rooms of social media as it creates confidence and secure people from being convicted for their wrong actions. In our country context, even media organizations themselves have limited or no appropriate use of social media or websites. This is a paradox for these social media have a paramount significance to enabling citizens get informed about national and international issues.

With regard to way of using social media in a positive sense of societal significance as well as the existing trends in the world and Africa, this writer has talked to Mr. Paschal Chem who is a youth volunteer with the African Union Commission in Ethiopia.

He has obtained his BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon, in July 2009. He was also one of the eight West African students sponsored by OSIWA to attend the Highway Africa Communication in September 2009 conferences and the Future Journalists Programme at Rhodes University's_School of Journalism and Media Studies (Rhodes JMS), South Africa JH. He has received trainings on New Media and ICTs plus other journalism skills like the_techniques of investigative journalism. He has been working in Advertising, Journalism and Public Relations in Cameroon since 2010.

Q: Can you tell me a little about the history of social network?

Ans: According to Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. E Mr. Paschal Chem llison, the first recognizable social network site was launched in 1997. It was called SixDegrees.com and it allowed users to create profiles, list their friends and, beginning in 1998, surf the friends lists.

Each of these features existed in some form before SixDegrees, of course. Profiles existed on most major dating sites and many community sites. AIM and ICQ buddy lists supported lists of friends, although those friends were not visible to others. Classmates.com allowed people to affiliate with their high school or college and surf the network for others who were also affiliated, but users could not create profiles or list friends until years later. SixDegrees was the first to combine these features.

Now we have linked in, Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, You Tube, Skype, blogs, websites and many more media forms which ease communication via phones, computers and other IT appliances for both professional and casual purpose.

Q: How is it being used in the contemporary society and what are the defects you understand in using it? And how do you compare its trends in the Western society and Africa?

Ans: Social media is great tool for communication. They have come into compliment in the traditional media forms such as the newspapers, television and radio.

As I have said above, through computers, telephones and other Information Technology gadgets, we are able to reach out to many more people all over the world, professionally and informally, at affordable costs and in real time, with the benefits of punctual or timely feedback. Interestingly, many job interviews in Africa especially for positions with international organizations are being conducted through Skype and video conferencing. Moreover, researchers, business people and even love seekers get to mingle and connect online regardless of their geographical locations. Interestingly, businesses, friendships and research ideas are nurtured through these new forms of media.

In Africa, however, challenges to the maximal use of new media includes computer illiteracy, as only 16 per cent Africans are on line when compared to 75 per cent in Europe and 61 per cent in the Americas according to the 2013 International Telecommunication Union ICT facts and figures. Other issues include high costs of laptops and multimedia phones to average families, and frequent power cuts in most cities and sometimes absence of electricity in rural areas.

It is true that not everyone on social media is well-meaning. It is a haven for scampers as they can operate anonymously. Also, some sick persons and perverts make it their home. And we also know that violent groups like al-Shabaab and even the al-Qaeda with Bin Laden have posted videos online threatening stability in certain parts on the world, or recruiting terrorists. So, we have to be careful with our information when we are online.

Q: Can we enumerate social network users in Africa, especially Facebook ?

Ans: As mentioned above, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) study shows that 16 per cent of Africans are users of social network in 2013. The Mini Watts Marketing Group conducted a study titled, “Internet World Stats” which is available online. It says that in June 2012 there was a 15.6 per cent Internet penetration in Africa constituting 167,335,676 Internet users, the by December 31st 2012, a total of 51,612,460 Africans were on Facebook. If you divide that total number of Facebook subscribers by the total number of Internet users in June 2012, you get that approximately 30 per cent of Africans are on Facebook.

Q: What are the negative effects of current social media trends and how do you think is the social media should be used from the perspective of developing democracy?

Ans: I have said above that unfortunately, anonymity gives way to crammers and con men who can dupe too many naive persons online.

With regard to enhancing democracy, social media has tremendous role, as they allow free interaction. Issues touching the lives of people in certain communities can be raised and discussed by many people online, who would pick an interest in the topic.

It is also a place for governments and electoral boards to reach and sensitize their citizens on key issues like how to register for elections, the rules of engagement, and the place of dialogue, compromise and peace in the aftermath of elections, and broadly on good practices for well-meaning citizens and Diaspora. Vital documents of State like the constitution, the penal code and others can be published online in order to maximize reach without compromising the environment.

The media also find in this the opportunity to reach the people especially young people, diaspora and other stakeholders of democracy and good governance. They are abundant fora to examine and discuss issues affecting the lives of citizens of sovereign nations or of the one Africa we all hope to see in 2063.

Q: Are there countries with good trends of using social media, and may be if you see it from the perspective using it in an election process.

Ans: The debates surrounding the recent presidential elections that took place in Kenya, with Uhuru Kenyata emerging victor, largely played online. Kenya is increasingly imposing itself as an IT hub, and Kenyans on the Worldwide Web are using Twitter, Facebook and publications like The Edition, are able to discuss politics and development online and have real impact on the ground. Of course, many newspapers in Africa have online editions these days.

The Internet World Stats shows that Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and South Africa in that order had the highest Internet penetration on the continent, amounting to 115.2 million users in June 2012. this means 68.84 per cent of all internet users in Africa were found in these five countries in June 2012, and that is barely a year ago.

The impact of social media in Africa is thus non-negligible as some scholars have argued that the mobilizations for the popular uprisings that toppled the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt largely happened online.

New ICTs also created awareness in Libya and somehow galvanized perceptions leading to Muammar Gadaffi’s fall. Increasingly, Nigerian politicians are sharing their views on You Tube, and yes as Eric Chinje of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has said, Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) have come to stay in Africa, and those who join the train earlier are all the wiser.

 

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