Social Media for Social Change
Written by Michael Annor
Take a moment to think about each time a television broadcast has been interrupted for a commercial. It might have felt like a disturbance, but whichever way you look at it, it still captured your attention; at least for a minute or two. And more often than not, it creates a lasting impression. There are some ads we just can’t forget, and some others that just aren’t worth remembering. But there’s something both kinds have in common; the airtime, that minute or two in the spotlight. Back when television and radio broadcast were considered mainstream media, this spotlight was a rarity; airtime wasn’t [and still isn’t] cheap. But now, with Facebook, Twitter and the many other social media networks available, the whole system has been rewired. It’s like a deliberate attempt to get us to put our voices out there. It’s free, and practically everyone’s on- the audience is set. Yet we’d rather use it to tell the world what our last meal was, or to show off what we look like in our newest outfit.
There’s this wave of youthful activism moving across the globe and it has all been centred on social media. Several countries are undergoing significant revamps; economic, political, or social and as one generation fades out for the next to take charge, its every citizen’s social obligation to get involved; especially with politics. Politics has got to do with things that affect us as citizens; traffic jams, power cuts, armed robberies, etc. It’s not a contest to show who can play the blame game best. On the African continent, politics has for so long been depicted as the forbidden [dirty] game meant for only fully grown adults, [men to be specific], who have been in the system for decades. These “players” go on to decide what goes on in our lives, whilst the rest of us, either can’t be bothered, or just complain to no effect in our small circles. We don’t realise that our opinions count. As clichéd as it may sound, there’s strength in numbers, and it’s this strength that swept across with the Arab Spring from Tunisia, through Egypt to Libya, and beyond. It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but we forget that it is this very same pen which has evolved into the keyboard. We forget, or are simply unaware of what we can, and should be doing with the social media resources accessible on the internet.
Facebook and Twitter have already successfully toppled longstanding heads of states in the past year and if appropriate use is continued as an input for ensuring good governance, this could be a positive turnaround for these states. Like the television commercials, not all Facebook status updates, or tweets make any impact at all. A well thought out advertising plan, would remain familiar to people across different generations whereas, a poorly organised one would be forgotten in no time. Should we thoughtfully and constructively use social media sites, with the intention to move our governments in the right direction, there’s no doubt that we’ll succeed. We should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” (Margaret Mead). With this in mind, we’ll not be swayed by sharp-tongued, deceptive, sly, sometimes thoughtless politicians, seeking re-elections, with no definite plans for development. When we all get involved, there’ll be pressure on them, and they’ll have to either comply or step out. There’s a Nigerian proverb that says that “until the lions have their own storytellers, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. As it stands, we are the lions, but when we refuse to speak up. As such we only end up being reduced from being the “king of the jungle” to being “the hunter’s catch”.
Aside the popular social networks, there are a myriad of other ways we could use social media to cause social change. In Kenya for example, there’s Ushahidi; a website which was developed to gather information from the general public to monitor violence during the 2007/2008 Kenyan crisis. It’s based on the concept of using crowdsourcing for social activism and public accountability; a very useful tool for combatting corruption by anonymously reporting malpractices and inefficiencies in public institutions. Since 2008, its use has spread to countries like South Africa, Haiti and Chile to allow crowds to give their input for solving problems that affect the same individuals within the crowds.
In Ghana, there’s Ghana Decides, a similar tool established to monitor the 2012 elections, right from the registration stages up until the final vote is cast. How else would problems get fixed if they don’t get reported? I’ve heard more than enough stories of how during the registration process, queues were stagnant, and some others found ways to skip the queue. Normally, we’ll just sit and watch, or complain there and then. But utilising social media would attach some importance to the complaints raised. We can’t continue depending solely on radio and television networks to air our thoughts. Nowadays, they’re hardly ever non-partisan and are often biased towards one party. It’s up to us [the masses] to equip ourselves with these seemingly ordinary tools to push for change. There’s also Kabissa, a website devoted to making Information and Communication Technology benefit African communities by featuring and publicising shared stories from across the continent.
The several blogging services online, are equally potent means of getting our voices out there. The internet is a powerful tool, and it would be sad if we don’t take advantage of it. We should keep in mind that the pen is mightier than the sword, and so is the keyboard, but more importantly, we should ensure that whatever opinion we share is thoughtful and constructive. That’s ultimate. Oh, one more thing, I had plantain for lunch today.