Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
Social media has been praised for enhancing social connections. But there are some who have accused it of causing social disconnections. So, like everything else, social media is really a double-edged sword. But love it or loathe it, it is here to stay. It is proliferating and any establishment worth its salt has to find a way of leveraging it because if it chooses to be hostile to social media, it is the one that will lose out.
Up to this point, our Government has only decided to see the negatives of social media. This columnist is struggling to think of one way that the Government of Zimbabwe has taken advantage of social media. On the contrary, it has given it nightmares. But come to think of it, maybe it is positive that social media has kept all those unemployed young people otherwise engaged elsewhere. So instead of creating street activists, social media has created what are now known as “clicktivists”.
In Zimbabwe there has been a slow conversion rate of transitioning clicktivism to activism. But this honeymoon period is not going to subsist forever for the Zimbabwean politician and the establishment.
Many a politician has already suffered from the damage which comes from social media and clicktivists.Joice Mujuru was captured taking that call from the podium.
Her credibility as a stateswoman went up in smoke. A few days ago MDC-T’s Thoko Khupe was captured and clicked at bragging in the UK that she was in politics for the money. For nearly 20 years some bought the illusion that this lady and her acolytes were in politics to provide a public service for the common good.
Oh no, a confession came via social media that all along some people were hoodwinking the public to help their materialistic aspirations. Their hunger for the goodies and the need to serve just took tangential directions. All this is thanks to social media. So one would understand why some politicians hate social media. These visits to the UK are proving to be political suicide for Zimbabwean politicians. And before the reader asks, yes it is just a coincidence that the two examples given happen to be female.
But any politicians or establishment that refuse to embrace social media will do that at their own peril. We are not asking politicians to publish their entire lives for the world to see.
That is just pathetic to do that. Let’s leave certain attention seekers to do that.
While politicians are attention seekers as well, it is good for them to deploy social media as an interacting tool where they package their information and get feedback.
Politicians and bureaucrats do get involved in nefarious activities. But the advent of social media has made a lot aware that not only the State has a monopoly on playing Big Brother. The citizen armed with a smartphone is also Big Brother but a politician cleverly using a smartphone can counterforce the disadvantage which he has been placed on by the same. The same applies to the Government of Zimbabwe. It is time it fully embraces social media as a way of engaging citizens because if it ignores it, citizens will continue to engage without its input. Now, if it doesn’t articulate its own side in its own words, it should not complain of being misrepresented or painted in a negative light or people having the wrong perception.
There are online media portals and platforms upon which social capital is built. But all we have received so far from official corridors are either some discouragement from social media or at party level the denigration of same. One of the things said by GoZ is that social media erodes our culture. But like everything else in this world, it cuts both ways. Should we embrace it, we can use it to promote our culture. Should we ignore it, we risk it becoming our culture.
One can understand the uneasiness expressed by other individuals over the benefits of social media.They might be coming from a good place but here is something they have to learn to live with.
Not everything is a threat. There are other things that should be considered opportunities. And this is one of them. Why don’t organisations like ZACC have a Twitter Handle? We are living in an information age for crying out loud. If they do not engage with the grassroots and clicktivists they will continue being bashed in their domains.
Governments should not always fear being overthrown by a socialised populace. They should use the same social media to inform the population what good institutions are doing and set their own narrative.
Even the attitude in corporate Zimbabwe is quite a very slow reaction. Social media is shaping attitudes and mind-sets. It is shaping tastes, commercial and political choices. Whoever is slow to get in there will pay a steep price. Social media marketing is not a module in some obscure degree. It is now a full degree in many modern universities. But this is for another day.
Zimbabwe tragically remains a country with one television station. That’s a very constricted media space. But the information age we are living in has gone beyond this traditional medium. Information is moving fast and in real time. Live feeds and live broadcasts are done at events that fewer people are waiting for the 8pm main news. They are getting raw, unedited and unadulterated. This is what the establishment has to grasp. Nobody has a monopoly on breaking news because any citizen can break news now.
Current Affairs is no longer the domain of public broadcasters. A lot of people trust the citizen broadcaster because they have no agenda except to get the clicks and being the first. Of course, this is what has also produced Fakes News. It is the blogger and the unregulated newsmaker who can peddle anything that is a challenge. This is where the State has to find a way leveraging social media. Not to control it, but to be ahead of the game and not to let other forces control the narrative,
There is no doubt that social media is shaping public opinion. It is up to the establishment on how it is going to approach it. If it approaches it in an adversarial way, then this author doesn’t know who will be the winner but there is no doubt on who will be the loser -the establishment.
There is too much misleading information being peddled around that the only way to correct misinformation is to circulate correct information. And the best way to circulate correct real-time information is to use the same platforms that the consumers of information go to.
One ministry which has been a favourite of social media buffoonery is the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. This ministry has committed one public relations disaster after another. Yet it is the ministry that is meant to be the bedrock of correct information for our children. If it can’t disseminate correct information about itself and its policies, then how can we even be sure its disseminating correct information to our children in its curricula? What are the chances that a ministry that misinforms also miseducates?
The establishment needs to invest in understanding social media so as to leverage it. If it lags behind as it is currently doing, then it has a proper mess on its hands.
Where journalists used to speak truth to power, now its the citizen that speaks truth to power since a lot of journalists are now owned by power. But an establishment whose doctrine is “empowerment” of the individual should not feel threatened by the presence an empowered individual who is now capable of setting or influencing a political agenda. This should not be seen as a threat but an opportunity for participatory engagement. Those executive institutions that feel threatened by this adopt such an attitude because they are failing to creatively leverage this opportunity.
The Zimbabwe Government needs an institutional plan for using social media.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in publishing consultation papers and glean information and views from the public on social media.
Sometimes there is no need to pay consultants when all you need is to reach out to your people and the experts among them can make an input for free. This is what collaborative policy making is all about. When citizens are directly engaged and their views and expertise (through use of service experience) is freely taped in. An embracive approach to social media is part of “e-government”. Modern governance has shown that it’s better to engage than to ignore.
Some Members of Parliament are ahead of the game because they realised the importance of social media visibility to highlight their work. What has not happened yet is for a lot of MPs to establish Constituency Social Media pages and portals on which they interact directly with their constituents. The constituents need to see that their representatives are active but also need to be able to exchange information.
This is not just about being responsive to trends, but being with the people where the people are. Section 141 of the Constitution obligates Parliament to facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes. We all know that our representatives prefer to do their outreaches in a way that puts them in hotels and guarantees allowances. But there is no harm in enhancing participation by setting up platforms for gleaning public views on proposed legislation.
There is a cyberwar going on out there. It is up to the establishment to realise that cyberwarfare is only fought in cyberspace.