Social media has become an essential component in the lives of many people, young and old, changing how we live, do business and interact. Moreover, social media is not only changing how we interact with each other but it has become part of our culture. Today, we are seeing the role played by social media in elections, civic participation and as tool to collaborate. This article highlights the importance of social media in this day and age, furthermore provide tips how we can leverage on opportunities paved by social media to shape the world we dare to live in.
It’s very hard to comprehend that 20 years ago people preferred face to face communication due to the fact that emails were not common, Facebook and Twitter were non-existent. Today, social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and many others have made the world a true global village, enabling billions of people that are geographically apart to communicate and share useful information. Conventionally, the internet has always been the focal point of social interactivity; however, this was limited to a few people who were able to afford computers at the time. Nevertheless, the rise of mobile computing devices such as mobile phones and tablets capable of accessing the Internet proliferated the use of social media platforms because these devices allowed people to interact with their friends from anywhere and everywhere using social media platforms.
Today, smartphones have become cheaper and more powerful than the computer that sent Apollo II to the moon, allowing more people to own smartphones and subsequently join social media platforms in order to meet new people and or communicate with each other. Moreover, smartphone also present users with a different approach to social interactivity than web, specialising in different kinds of interaction services such as location-based matchmaking, augmented reality, public and private sharing of images. Beside just communication and interaction, social media is being used for varying reasons today, journalists are using it as a tool to produce and disseminate content on a large scale. Furthermore, social media has also made journalism more participatory, allowing consumers to get more involved and report stories through social media. One such example was during the #FeesMustFall campaign of 2016, citizen journalism played a crucial role as it enabled students to share police brutality via social media, which was been concealed by some of the mainstream media Social media has also played a critical role in conflicts, one practical example of this is the Arab spring revolution of 2011. If we could go back to a week before the resignation of the Egyptian former president Hosni Mubarak tweets about political change from within and outside Egypt rose from 2300 to 230000 a day and videos showing protesters received millions of views on the Internet. Using Twitter and other social media platforms such as Facebook and a like, citizens were able to air their dissatisfactions and subsequently demand for political change. Connectedness of social media also helped create discussion about political change across many other countries in the region.
The just ended American 2016 US elections, which saw billionaire Donald John Trump become president-elect of the United States of America showed us another dimension of social media, how controversial statements can attract so much following. Although some thought it will diminish Trump by sharing the nasty, racist and sexist comments he made, he became more popular. Even when traditional media denied him airtime, he continued to use social media to send his message of ‘Making America Great Again’ across. The all-time biggest advantage of social media, is the ability to allow for an open discussion, which allows people to genuinely engage therefore solve the problems they face. Despite the advantages and all the good things that social media enable, ugly things also happen on social media. For example, the number of people who become victims of cyber bullying via social media. We do not imply that a specific social network is to be blame for this but social media has become an easier tool for bullies to perpetuate their crimes. Moreover, since the rise of social media platforms, the number of online harassment incidents has significantly increased in our societies.
Although some employers claim that social media has reduced productivity in the workplace. This is only true in some instances; other cases exist were the use of social media has increased employees’ productivity. My advice to the youth is, social media should not be your life but an enabler that easily allow you to communicate, share information and get informed. Although, the decision on how one uses social media lies with the user, they need to understand the positive and negative impacts in order for them to use social media as a positive tool for a wider societal change. Though irresponsible and nasty comments are made through social media by those who seek attention, we cannot be reactive and use this to restrict freedom on social platforms. Social media should remain a platform for open discussion, allowing people to air their dissatisfactions with the communities, leaders and propose new solutions that will help shape the society of our dreams.
*Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc. Computer Science