BEING A LECTURE DELIVERED BY COMMISSIONER FOR INFORMATION AND STRATEGY, STATE OF OSUN, HON ADELANI BADERINWA ON THE ROLES OF SOCIAL MEDIA/BLOG JOURNALISM IN DEMOCRATIZATION PROCESS AT THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF DEMOON MAGAZINEMO
It gladdens my heart to address this gathering on this very important topic the Roles of Social Media/Blog Journalism in Democratization Process. To simplify this topic, there is need to explain the three key/elements of the topic which are Social Media, Journalism and Democratization.
The founder and Chief Executive Officer of Society3 Group, Axel Schultze defines Social Media as the collection of tools and online spaces available to help individuals and businesses to accelerate their information and communication needs; while Wikipedia says social media are primarily Internet-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.
Journalism is the gathering and reporting of day-to-day event through a particular medium. The American Press Institute defines Journalism as the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information.
Democratisation is a process of getting or sustaining a democratic system; or the transition to a more democratic political regime. It also refers to achieving substantive political changes in a democratic direction.
Having explained the three key words, we can now proceed to examine the essence of the topic. In considering the topic, one’s mind will definitely get to the quote from an anonymous Egyptian activist, who, during the Arab Spring said “We had no freedom of assembly in the streets of Cairo, so we assembled in cyberspace instead.” This quote leads me to a recent term that has become a reference point in the analysis of social media impact in democracy, the ‘Twitter Revolution’. The term originated from the civil unrest, or rather the periods of the uprisings or upheavals in Egypt and Syria of 2011 and 2012 respectively, which was known as “Arab Spring”. Because of the prominent role of the social media, particularly, twitter during the Arab Spring, public analysts, international opinion moulders, authors and media practitioners, held that the uprisings were significantly influenced and organised by Twitter and subsequently referred to them as “Twitter Revolution” ( Johannes Sieben, 2012).
For quite some time now, the Nigeria media space is dominated by conventional media stations – Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN or Radio Nigeria), State-owned stations, Channels, Daar Communications, Silverbird, Galaxy, TVC; Magazines – Newswatch, The News, Tell and Newspapers – Guardian, Tribune, Daily Trust, Vanguard, Punch, ThisDay, The Nation, Leadership, Daily Independent, Champion etc.
However, with the advent of social media and blogging (which promulgated citizen journalism), the role of the citizen journalist (social media/blog journalism) is becoming more valuable than ever. Citizen journalist has the opportunity to present a unique perspective – to breathe fresh air into a society herded by mainstream media.
The citizen journalist provides invaluable information that democratizes the media, as well as nations. For instance, the arrest of 29-year-old Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah of Manalaa.net prompted Cairo activists to demand his release.
The use of terms such as “Twitter Revolution” in early media reports during the Arab Spring suggested that new media have suddenly emerged as omnipotent weapons for easily overcoming authoritarian regimes. In 2008, hundreds of thousands of people, organized through Facebook, held a march in the Colombian capital Bogotá to protest the continuing, violent activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (RAFC).
Although the use of new media during the Arab Spring has been portrayed as a novelty, it appears to be in fact only a logical continuation of their uses by earlier political movements. What is different today is that new media have played a more prominent role than before, that they have been used in more effective and determinant ways, and that the movements’ protagonists were able to draw from previous as well as from each other’s experiences. For example, actors in Egypt used similar new media techniques as their “predecessors” in Tunisia.
Before we go further, we must not forget that the fundamental assets to possess in democratisation process are freedom of expression, information and assembly. These are the basic rights that enhance democratic process. It is noteworthy that social media have become the readily available platform of expression for an average literate Nigeria. A platform that offers opportunity to express your mind, share information and have access to information, is significant to democratisation. You cannot hold government accountable in the absence of information and freedom of expression.
In Tunisia for example, Facebook as well as Youtube were used to spread images of the riots in the town of Sidi Bouzid following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17th 2010. Even though long-term resentments against the government such as unemployment, corruption and restricted civil liberties have existed for some time, it was the publicity around the events in Sidi Bouzid that laid the emotional foundation for the outbreak of the revolution. One user stated in a message on the Twitter micro-blogging platform: “Let’s hope that this event in Sidi Bouzid isn’t limited to Bouazizi’s health … this is only the beginning!!!”
Similarly, in Egypt, a famous Facebook group named “We are all Khaled Said” was set up by activists to raise awareness and generate sympathies for Khaled Mohamed Saeed who was beaten to death by police on June 6th 2011, which is generally considered to be the single most decisive event that led to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. One leading Facebook activist who was involved in setting up this group and who has emerged as a public face of the protests in Egypt was Google executive, Wael Ghonim, which has led to the company celebrating itself as promoting democracy. Another important Facebook group that contributed to the uprising was the “April 6 Youth Movement”. Twitter was also used by the protesters to organize their collective actions, primarily through the #jan25 hashtag, which on the Twitter platform acts as a keyword that can be searched for and subscribed to. The Facebook event titled “The Day of the Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment” which called for mass protests on January 25th 2011 was advertised through Twitter and received more than 80,000 clicks. These underscore the importance of social media in democratisation process.
Basic Roles of the Social Media/Blog Journalism in Democratisation Process
The basic role of the social media is to hold the government, either democratic or authoritarian or any form, accountable to the people. Section 22 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria states: ‘The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.’ The social media, which is an integral part of the media could not but do just that as its basic role in democratisation process. There are some few points, however, that highlight the role of the social media/blog journalism in democratisation process. They are stated below:
Historically, the effect/role of social media/blog journalism was felt in the year 2000, when social movements in Serbia mobilized a large number of people to question the oppressive political regime that directly contributed to the fall of President Slobodan Milosevic. The social network based movement was established by a group of university students in October 1998.
Information Sharing: Social media provide information at fingertip. Advancement in digital technology has enabled people to upload almost anything, post, discuss, interact and comment. When World Wide Web, i.e www became popular in mid 1990, it enabled people to share information in ways that were never possible. In Nigeria, more than 45% adults use social media, like Facebook and Twitter. On these platforms, they not only share their general thoughts, but they do share what they think about politics. They follow different politicians, take part in various surveys and discussions, and last but not the least, influence and get influenced by others’ thoughts. It shows that most of the people using social media take interest in political events taking place in their environment.
Social Mobilisation: Social Media has become a strategic and unfailing platform for mobilisation. Majority of us here do create event page on facebook to create awareness and mobilize people to attend our event. Example of this has been stated in the Egyptian struggle above. Coordination of revolution, meetings, discussions are being done on social media via group chats; this is offers the opportunity gather people participate in democratic process and have their input in government.
In 2008, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, to protest the continuous violence by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. All information regarding the protest was transmitted and disseminated via Facebook. Arab Spring, has always been used to refer to revolution led by everyday people through new media – social media/blog journalism. The implication is how the new media is used to encourage democracy and in an effective manner. It is established that the internet can directly impact a democratic system.
Change in the pattern of interaction and social relationship. Social media has potential to change the fundamental character of social life or at a societal level. Information can be delivered to all of the community speedily, and this would impact all segments of society.
On a final note, the role of social media in democritisation process could not be over-emphasized; the social media expose what could have been easily hidden by government official, or anybody, it provides information and gives access to documents, even the so call classified ones.
It is imperative to note, that so much said about the social media and it has limitation. Only the educated can make use of it effectively and “great influence’ the social media is within the elites and a few others with whom they share opinions.
I congratulate the management of De Moon Magazine on its 10th anniversary and pray that the owner/s, management and workers and the magazine shall continue to excel.
Thank you for listening.