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Social media: Restricting an evolving digitalised revolution


In times of change, learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
Eric Hoffer (writer and philosopher)

In the 21st Century also termed the Century of the Fourth Industry Revolution (4IR); the role of the social media cannot be wished away or watered down. With the world population put at 7.4Billion and China’s population put at 1.357Billion, the social media statistics which are available online are more than enough for all to ruminate on.

Social media users globally for 2015 were put at 1.96billion. 2016 is projected to be 2.13billion. 2017 is projected to be 2.29billion. Whilst 2018 is projected to hover about 2.44Billion users. At the juncture, you should know that as at 2012, global active social media users was just 1.4Billion.

How many people use Facebook monthly? Global figures put it at 1.59Billion. Totla number of Facebook daily active users? 1.038Billion.

Twitter has about 320 million users. Twitter’s monthly active users is put at 1billion. And active Twitter users on mobile devices is put at 3.9Million

China is a nation with a population of 1.357Billion and has about 600Million Weibo registered users. Weibo is a microblogging platform commonly referred to as the “Chinese Twitter”. China is a goldmine for Twitter but Beijing has so far denied Twitter entry into China for now when you consider that out of the 600Million registered Weibo users; 222Million are active.  And around 100Million are daily users.

The enormity of social media’s influence is still evolving and transcends individuals, cities and borders. One undeniable grandiloquent truth standing out with unblemished immaculacy is that social media is such a powerful tool for people, politicians, corporations, institutions and governments to disseminate awareness or information. To be Nostradamus-like and forecast the futuristic trajectory of this digitalised revolution would be foolhardy. Guess work would be the order of the day because social media is still evolving, changing lives (crowd funding from good Samaritans to pay pressing tuition and medical bills etc) to cutting bureaucracies (interacting directly with government officials etc) to awareness and enlightenment (NGOs breaking down state policies into simple to read and understand literature). And accountability (keeping governments and corporations on their feet by asking tasking but necessary questions.) The list is endless. But not many welcome this change. A change they are not comfortable with. A change that puts one on the stage and the audience is the global community.

The potential and influence of social media manifested during the 2008 American Presidential campaigns when Barack Obama’s chief blogger; Sam Graham-Felsen who is a veteran social media strategist, technology analyst. As the blog director of the New Media committee, Sam wrote for and oversaw, worked with key national and state bloggers to promote the campaign’s message, helped direct the campaign’s online rapid response operation, and produced and collaborated on dozens of online videos for the campaign. The result was the use of social media to source for over hundreds of million for dollars for the Obama campaign. Millions donated by the public. Sam who was in Lagos in 2011 now writes books as he informed me in 2015.

Another example was the unrest in Iran some years ago. Social media and internet services were shutdown during the unprecedented unrest. A Persian lady was shot by the police and a video showing her pass away went viral. The citizens who refused to kowtow to the whims of the then government, found a way around the ban. They began utilising the power of the Bluetooth. As you would know, files can be shared and transferred between Bluetooth devices within a specified radius.

The Egyptian phase of the Arab Spring was said to have gathered momentum online via Facebook. The crackdown on the administrators of the Facebook page didn’t impede the galvanisation of Egyptians to Tahrir Square; who were fed up with the Mubarak regime. As usual, the government shut down social media platforms but it is known that a top American IT expert who was with his Egyptian colleagues in Cairo at that period; got in touch with his close friend-a founder of one of the popular social media platforms for assistance; in providing an alternative to the shutdown; an alternative, some now refer to as a proxy. It was done and the rest is history. Even though, on a BBC documentary the administrators of that Facebook page and organisers of the Tahrir Square protests are now saddened by the turn of events in Egypt.

With all candour, the attempt to restrict the use of social media is a fallacy of hasty generalisation by governments not comfortable with the perspicacious and politically aware electorate who are becoming IT savvy. The world is changing. The old ways of banning the press or rather the old ways when governments sunk their fangs into the jugular of the press and the vocalised masses will not do. A lot of leaders globally would prefer to be ruined by praise rather than saved by criticism. Social media amplifies that plethora of constructive criticism to digital decibels which cannot be controlled. And this lack of control is what governments not loved by their citizens or governments who are up to political mischief to their benefit; are wary of.

Social media vocalizes the collective criticism and political predicaments of a society usually churned out by a sangfroid politically aware people. When a government bans or shuts down social media platforms; it implies that officials cannot prognosticate or forecast the outcome of a present predicament (most times it is usually a popular unrest which they aren’t comfortable with or the likelihood of not winning an election). A case in point, is the Ugandan election of Thursday February 18, 2016; when the government shutdown social media with the official statement that it was for “security reasons and that full access would return on Monday, the 22nd”. But Ugandans found proxy channels to bypass the social media ban and still posted pictures, results etc using #UgandaDecides. MTN Uganda which shutdown service must have counted the cost of not operating her MTN Mobile Money Service; for on the evening of the Election Day; the mobile money service resumed.

When a government arrogates to itself the monopoly of wisdom and bans social media especially during a “perceived crisis” (which is usually to retain control); the same social media the government must have utilised to her political advantage; usually this brazen move completely befuddles the citizens who begin to think outside the box and creatively find smarter ways to circumvent the ban. The result is a collective effort by like-minded individuals online; who might have had only an interest in governance but now a commitment. No thanks to the restriction of social media.

Montesquieu (1689-1755) said, the deterioration of a government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded. Social media trumpetizes a government’s decay and its attendant decadence like no other platform. In his book (The Principles and Benefits of Change); the late Dr Myles Munroe stated that the old ways of leadership have lost their effectiveness and must yield to the new equation of the 21st Century leadership.

Let me add that 21st Century leadership must embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) which the social media is a part of. Connoisseurs of media (Print, TV, Radio, Digital and Social) know that restricting social media is the genesis of political hara-kiri by any government. Social media is evolving; the magnitude of its influential power cannot be quantified due to its rippling or domino effects. And with anything taking its natural course, restricting what should be on social media would be a collective effort resulting in societal good and not for political advantages; which seems to be the case in several global instances; cloaked as accountability for statements made whilst simultaneously delegating freedom of speech.

Dolapo Aina,
Lagos, Nigeria

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