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Ultimately, social media is ‘good’ for government

Social media users

Social media users

The introduction of a prohibitive tax on social media is generally understood to have been intended to reduce social media activity, or what some government political actors refered to as ‘lugambo’ (gossip).

With the role of the social media in the Arab Spring protests on mind, government feared that similar mobilization could be done here – after all, there is enough public fatigue and anger to rally around.

The rate at which government’s bad ‘secrets’ were being leaked and embellished by bloggers such as Tom Voltaire Okwalinga (TVO) and others with huge following, scared them too. It is increasingly becoming very easy for anyone to jump out of their bed and send the entire nation into panic through a Facebook post. The era of censorship and monopoly of news finally met an opposite force.

Before, it was easy to threaten newspapers like The Observer and Daily Monitor when they published what government did not want. Radio stations and TV stations would be closed or warned back into the desired line. Many otherwise important stories died in newsrooms, as many media houses went into self-censorship. But now, everyone of the millions is their own editor and news deliverer on their own social media account.

Armed with their phones and other gadgets, everyone is in the lookout for news that they will be the first to break. A public servant taking a bribe is no longer sure if they are not being recorded. Video footages of police officers torturing suspects and protestors are now in circulation.

What used to be showed on TV once and it disappeared now remains in circulation on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter with more interpretations long after the events occurred.

What is government to do in fear of both uncomfortable facts and fake news? Would it manage to gag them all? Would incarcerating Dr Stella Nyanzi scare the rest into silence or just annoy them into even bolder posts? Would the Computer Misuse Act help?

How about arbitrarily shutting down social media as happened during the 2016 elections? Whereas it provides some temporary relief, it leaves government with a dented image internationally.

Unfortunately, despite all social media’s promises and strengths, government may need not worry much about it anymore. If government cared much about taking the country forward, it would have good reason for being worried about social media – especially in view of many people’s wastage of otherwise productive time and spreading harmful propaganda.

But a government that is preoccupied with keeping itself in power, by hook or crook, may have very little to fear about social media. Here is why.

Social media’s key strengths as well constitute its major weaknesses. As I noted earlier, one of the major political promises of social media is that of expanding democratic space by offering voice to the masses whose perspectives hardly ever find public expression to reach relevant centers of power.

Here, they are able to say what their Members of Parliament, religious leaders, mainstream media, and government altogether wouldn’t speak for them. They also find space for venting out their frustrations and anger and at least get some relief for ‘telling off’ their strong oppressors, call it another ‘weapon of the weak’.

But because there are millions of ‘speakers’ on social media and that are never silent, the arena has come to operate like an anarchical space with a mob of each screaming what they feel like screaming.

Government, therefore, may not worry because whereas such an uncoordinated mob can be injurious, it can hardly ever organize effectively in the same direction, and it is very easy to keep it busy in its wordy confusion while drawing it away from any meaningful effort in discussing things that matter.

Consider too that social media is occupied by individuals from different social classes, of diverse levels of education/knowledge, different cultural/ethnic backgrounds, various religious affiliations, and many other identity lines.

It would take very effective mobilization for such a diverse group to meaningfully speak to each other and organize joint action, even if they all wanted change. It is more like the Tower of Babel in the confusion of tongues that ultimately fails it.

It is not uncommon for people claiming to be fighting for the same cause to be seen engaged in ruthless online wars that leave both of them severely wounded, or the more wounded coming back in disastrous vengeance on another occasion. Whereas it is possible to plant moles and detractors even outside social media, but the effect is more dramatic in a space as chaotic as Facebook.

Meanwhile, a lot of time is being spent on reading random disjointed comments and responding to them, hardly ever finding time to come up with clear strategy. Everything becomes ad hoc, the road becomes the driver. What government does in such a space of confusion where everyone is their own leader is to ensure a constant supply of stories and controversies for aimless debate. Besides, a group of this nature can never avoid conflict.

And, in its diversity, such a space can never run short of gullible and naïve people. Every story will be received for debate, jokes, quarrels, but very few will be concluded here. When you notice that the story is taking a direction that you do not like, throw in another or a nude photo. They will surely abandon the other and jump onto the new one, and another, and another.

Even otherwise good ideas will surely get lost in this constant chaos, and the clock continues ticking. Ultimately, those opposed to government will be kept in reactionary random confusion and no time to plan.

Government is distracted too, as it is engaged in constant spinning and firefighting, away from addressing more serious issues. But this wouldn’t bother them that much, as long as the confusion keeps them in power.

jsssentongo@gmail.com

The author is a teacher of philosophy

Comments   

+1 #1 Lukyamuzi Kabakasman 2019-08-14 14:03
Well, well, well.....typical Spire for you. Like a follow up on his article about Whatsapp.

Very interesting though and Happy Birthday by the way Mr. Ssentongo.
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0 #2 kabayekka 2019-08-14 15:18
Indeed for the government of Uganda that came to power in 1986 through kavuyo, social media as this article emphasises is a better way for them to stay put in power.

But for most modern governments in this world, the benefit of running proper and efficient government cannot be over emphasized.

When social media was coming up years back, one cannot forget the time when the public had to go to courts of law so that government bureaucracy can start to accept a fax print out as a legal document of electronic communication all over the world!
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+2 #3 Lysol 2019-08-14 21:09
The social media is a forum for public speaking ( to hear the voices of the voiceless) unlike you who is paid for it Spire.

Nothing has to make sense, It's a way to express oneself on the ills/injustices of society. It's a grey area, not just black and white. Black face!.
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0 #4 Lakwena 2019-08-15 08:33
In other words Dr. Spire, a serial rapist doesn't want to be caught pants down.
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+1 #5 Akot 2019-08-16 23:10
All over the world, except in Uganda, social media is used to UNITE people for common purposes starting with throwing out demo rulers!

Change of governance is brought about by the people who want it, right?

No one can force Ugandans to UNITE to throw Museveni out as they maintain him in power through the tribalistic system in the zone the dictator has no tribal land!

Museveni's stay is determinded & depends on Ugandans to whom tribal lands that form the country belong!

No outsider will dare blame or get against Museveni as it's Ugandans to whom tribal lands that form the country belong, who need/want him to stay in power!

No outsider can remove Museveni/replace him, only Ugandans can or the only one to replace him will be his military son.
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0 #6 Akot 2019-08-16 23:18
Lakwena, agreed!

You know, serial rapiest, when finally cought, is a big surpise/shoke; they are mostly men with children they love & treat so well, treat their wives so well with respect, while neighbouts tell the world how good the rapiest are & say it impossibel for them to have committed the inhuman acts they are accused of!

Well, in developed world, social media is the fastest means to get people TOGETHER & ensure governments work for the people & in time, or leaders are in trouble!
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0 #7 Akot 2019-08-16 23:23
Quoting kabayekka:


For most modern governments in this world, the benefit of running proper and efficient government cannot be over emphasized.

When social media was coming up years back, one cannot forget the time when the public had to go to courts of law so that government bureaucracy can start to accept a fax print out as a legal document of electronic communication all over the world!


Thanks!

When will Ugandans join today world; use social media to COME TOGETHER as ONE to block & throw Museveni out, then go for the kind of governance they want?
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+1 #8 Akot 2019-08-19 19:06
Lysol,

As you rightly put it; [social media is a forum for public speaking ], USA president uses it in time to express himself, knowing the entire world will read, listen & in time!

Well, social media UNITED people who brought down rulers who believed they were there till death stopped them: Bin Ali, Mubarak, Kadhafi, Boutefika, Al Bashir...!

But Ugandans are the last to know they are tribalistically divided & will be ruled by Museveni & family for ever! As picture above shows, social media in Uganda serves no purpose except to bring people out, but each on his/her mobile, ignoring one another!

Sudanses never gave up because once they UNITED, they knew the military won't teargas, shoot them openly while UN-USA-EU watch in silence, as they do with tribalistically divided & ruled Uganda!
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0 #9 Lysol 2019-08-19 21:04
Spire, are you a leg/foot fetish? Would you display a photo of your daughter(if you have any like that)?
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-1 #10 Winnie 2019-08-20 02:55
Your brain must be off duty these days. OTT is a tax. The whole thing is not about gossiping.

It is about increasing revenue collection. How can you collect revenue if people stop gossiping?

That is like saying people will stop using petrol when you tax it. Government does not care one way or the other about social media which it monitors anyway.
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