Viewpoints | Sep 10,2021
January 16 , 2021
By Christian Tesfaye ( Christian Tesfaye (email@example.com) is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture. )
Social media recently went into an uproar. Something terrible had happened. It had been banned in Uganda.
The country has seen polls this year, with its longtime ruler, Yoweri Museveni, facing off against the much younger musician-cum-politician Bobi Wine, who is popular with the youth. Facebook had banned accounts linked to Museveni’s re-election campaign. It seemed to be in direct response to this that the Ugandan authorities banned social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Activists see it as stifling content. It probably is. Social media has served as a platform for the expression of alternative ideas critical of those with state power. This is especially true in semi-democracies and authoritarian countries.
An excellent example is the #ENDSARS campaign, which sought to highlight and push against Nigeria's allegedly corrupt elite police force, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
It was a campaign that succeeded in introducing the world to their frustrations and outcry. It succeeded in forcing through the dismantlement of the police force by the government, though a new organisation replaced it.
These platforms are not invaluable. But few things are ever wholly useless. Some purpose is served, especially if they were created with a certain level of good intentions behind them. For the likes of Facebook and Twitter, it is to make the world more connected, engage us more in one another’s lives.
It has not been going as planned, to put it mildly. Today, these platforms exercise an unprecedented amount of power over the public. There is not all that much debate over this anymore, especially in more democratic societies. There is an emerging consensus that at least a certain level of policing is required, like flagging fake news.
It was why progressives rejoiced when President Donald Trump was booted from Twitter and Facebook, because they believed that he could utilise the power these platforms afford him to subvert American democracy. It was an acknowledgement of social media's unchecked power, which more often than not inspires the worst in society.
Combined with election seasons, it could be a sure recipe for violence. In Africa, elections are already violent. The Nordic Africa Institute looked at 50 elections for the six years until 2017. It found that nearly all of them saw some violence.
Social media platforms can make it especially violent if care is not taken. The same institute notes: “Violent discourse can be effective in mobilising political campaigns, especially in political environments coloured by ethnic and regional stereotypes and a previous history of conflict.”
But is violent discourse a result of social media? Is the manner of engagement on social media not just a consequence of the actual state of our politics?
There is some truth to the statement, but social media itself contributes to discord. This is because of how it works as a business.
Social media platforms trade in attention. It is a commodity that they sell to advertisers. Thus, the content needs to be as exciting and fascinating as possible to keep our eyeballs glued to the screen, metaphorically. It if it too boring, who knows, we may start reading books.
And what gets peoples’ attention?
Populists, proselytisers and Hollywood movie producers have long figured out the answer. What gets attention is violence; something that preys on our fears and prejudices; anything sensational and conspiratorial. The content has got to sell. It has got to keep people coming back for more.
Taking it to another level, the tech giants behind our favourite social media platforms collect an unprecedented amount of data from us and run them through complex algorithms so they can accurately tell just what makes us tick. It is an awesome power that populists, priests and Hollywood producers have only dreamed of possessing.
Unfortunately, this is entirely incompatible with democracy or the notion of constructive debate. It cannot happen when people are increasingly suspicious of one another.
All of this does not mean that social media should be banned, especially in countries that have not matured into democracies. It should not be a debate between allowing social media platforms to exist or not. In fact, restrictions to the likes of Facebook and Twitter may boost alt-tech social media sites that are much less accountable, like Parler and Gab.
Banning is not an answer. But the discussion needs to take place on how social media platforms can be used more constructively.
PUBLISHED ON Jan 16,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1081]
Viewpoints | Sep 10,2021
Viewpoints | Mar 06,2021
View From Arada | Sep 11,2020
Radar | Oct 10,2020
Sunday with Eden | Dec 05,2018
Viewpoints | Apr 13,2019
Fortune News | Sep 08,2019
Viewpoints | May 15,2021
Viewpoints | Dec 10,2018
Viewpoints | Jun 27,2020
Fortune News | 41684 Views | Jul 18,2020
Fortune News | 35453 Views | Sep 01,2021
Photo Gallery | 28173 Views | May 06,2019
Photo Gallery | 26383 Views | Mar 17,2019
Commentaries | Oct 23,2021
Life Matters | Oct 23,2021
My Opinion | Oct 23,2021
Sunday with Eden | Oct 23,2021
Agenda | Oct 23,2021
Editorial | Oct 23,2021
October 16 , 2021 . By HAWI DADHI
Residing in a country with no capital market, an organised marketplace for trading se...
August 28 , 2021 . By HAWI DADHI
The streets of Addis Abeba are as varied as they are many, although too many of them have yet to be named. From the narrow alleyways of the...
August 7 , 2021
There are a few without an opinion on Ethiopia’s federal structure, which is arranged along lingo-cultu...
July 24 , 2021
There was an alarming increase in the price of Teffin August 2017. It suddenly skyrocketed from 2,000 Br...
Ethiopia is at a pivotal moment in its history. Its future path is not only vital for...
Leaders of the National Election Board are in a charm offensive mood, of a sort. Last week, they organised a rare tour for members of the me...
When the country’s most senior diplomats and envoys return back to their posts after two-week debriefings, they leave behind a point or tw...
October 23 , 2021
Ethiopia`s civil war continues to rage, with no sign of respite or a prospect for a n...
October 16 , 2021
For many, the past rainy season was a critical moment in the life of the nation. One...
October 9 , 2021
Public offices have been having a field day in the past few years. From the Prime Min...
October 2 , 2021
Ethiopia`s Parliament will pick up a Prime Minister on Monday, October 4, 2021. The i...
PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) at a Gala Dinner Called for the Awarding of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize
May 6 , 2019
Friends help us make the most out of life, providing social and emotional support as...
Human societies have come a long way. Just think about it. It was only in 1888 that electricity in our ho...
October 23 , 2021
Beverage companies and commercial banks dominated last week's event held at the Grand Palace up at Arat Kilo. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD...
October 23 , 2021 . By HAWI DADHI
The central bank has instructed commercial banks to reinvest returns from bonds maturing next year and on...
Companies setting up data centres at the Addis Abeba ICT Park are embroiled in a dispute over lease payme...
October 23 , 2021 . By TAMRAT G. GIORGIS
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) left Ethiopia out of its economic growth projections for next year...
Or see contact page