[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e all love social media, don’t we? From Facebook to Twitter, WhatsApp to Instagram, and several others in between and beyond, we have become captives of the shared side of the World Wide Web. Indeed, what initially started as an adventurous hobby has now turned into a deadly addiction, with millions of people spending inordinately long periods glued to internet-enabled gizmos.
But do not get me wrong! There is nothing that can replace social media in the role it is playing in our lives. For instance, while Facebook is teeming with individuals from all walks of life posting and sharing salacious content, it is a tool that is also invaluable to both profit and not-for-profit organizations. It is simply a minefield that professionals and corporate organizations have to navigate to reach their target audiences.
For better or for worse, social media has drastically changed the fortunes of many people. This fact was proven recently when social media enthusiasts in Kenya feted their most favourite individuals and organizations in the digital space. The 2017 OLX Social Media Awards (SOMA) held in Nairobi celebrated individuals and organizations that have used social media to bring positive change in society.
This was the fifth edition of the annual SOMA. True to reality, this year’s competition was all encompassing including political, social and economic spheres. It also featured some of the best known corporate brands, public institutions, media personalities and public figures in government, politics and sports. It also included the gamut of social media channels like Instagram, YouTube and blogs.
Winners included popular names like KTN news anchor Betty Kyallo, who scooped the Media Personality Award, Eric Omondi who won the Entertainment Personality Award, Classic 105 FM breakfast show co-hosts Maina Kageni and Mwalimu Kingangi for the best Radio Show Award, and Maggie Ireri who won the Corporate Executive Corporate Award.
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Winners in the corporate category included Equity Bank Kenya (Financial Services), Jumia Kenya (Retail), Dairyland (Consumer Products) and Samsung (Technology). Others that were awarded in their respective sectors included companies in the tourism and manufacturing, learning institutions and State corporations.
But that is the glossy side of things. Equally, social media has the potential to totally destroy the credibility or reputation of individuals and organizations. It can be a deadly channel through which people can perpetuate very diabolical activities. In fact, parents have been constantly advised by various authorities to monitor the activities of their children in the cyber world, lest they (children) fall prey to evil online schemes.
Guidelines for online discourse
It is during critically tense moments like we are currently undergoing with a looming General Election, that we see the ugly side of social media. The spread of hate speech through digital media poses a grave risk to national security. Just like in previous elections, the Government recently issued warnings and guidelines for online political messaging ahead of the August 8 elections.
Government institutions handling this initiative include the Ministry of Interior, Information and Communications Technology Ministry, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, and the Judiciary. Mobile phone operators are obviously major stakeholders and are required to be vigilant and monitor communication trends of a political nature in their networks.
The new social media guidelines also place the onus of guarding against hate speech on the author of political content, or anyone forwarding such messages on digital platforms. Of course, this involves an aspect of snooping into people’s private conversations online, but that is one of the pitfalls of digital media. Actually, if you are on social media, to a considerable extent you have signed to expose your personal affairs to all and sundry.
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The media in Rwanda, mainly radio, was blamed for playing a major role in the 1994 genocide where up to a million Tutsis were massacred. Now, you can imagine the kind of damage that social media can do in mobilizing people for war. The real time sharing of text and audio-visual content can escalate things at a very fast rate. By all means, hate speech must be monitored and, in times of acute crisis, the government should not fear to switch off these channels until there is a rapprochement.
So, there you have it! Social media is a double-edged sword that can help to change the world, either positively or negatively. It is a make-believe world where many have been lost as they try to emulate the glitzy lifestyles of their idols and role models. Consequently, it has disrupted many lives, as people see the end product without posing questions about the process.
I do not know whether we are yet to see more social media phenomena, or we have hit a plateau as Facebook records its two billion user. Ultimately, it is about the individual and what he or she wants to get from the millions of daily interactions online.