Can Social Media Replace Bad Media?
As a Zimbabwean, and a former publisher, the state of the ‘free press’ in Zimbabwe is disheartening. It is not surprising, just saddening. The complete control and monopoly Zanu-PF still exert over the media ensures their rhetoric and agenda is pushed. This is something the coalition government has failed to address, and it demonstrates where the real power still rests.
Increasingly citizens are finding their voice through using social tools. There are efforts to frustrate this through arrests for comments on social platforms like Facebook, and efforts to censure a slower pace of adoption of connectivity tools and options. Getting online with any meaningful speeds or amount of time in Zimbabwe is difficult. The lack of infrastructure, as well as the high costs involved and limited data allowances ensure time online is curtailed.
The diaspora are helping to spread relevant information and to ‘send home’ differing perspectives and content. Their perspective is key too. Through settling in different countries they are able to understand the perspectives of the different cultures they are mixing with, figure out their agendas and where their misconceptions may be. They are also more able to add context to what is happening back at home and present them in a way that can address gaps in understanding and perspective. The downside is the longer they are away, the less in touch they are with the realities on the ground. We have seen instances where rumour and wishful thinking have spurred false or misleading stories.
However, in the context of the above is it fair to say that social media is replacing bad media? In truth we need to look at context. Social media is often considered ‘grass roots’, taking the power from those in authority and giving power back to the people. This is not always the case. Much of our social media content contains links to articles and opinions, and many of these, being contrary in nature hold their own agendas. We also need to take a look at who has access to social tools. As it stands, access to social tools and the ability to access data belongs to a small minority of people in Zimbabwe.
This is not to say that the content people are accessing is wrong or false. Neither is it an attempt to discredit or to say it is not needed. Clearly a balance is essential and an alternative voice must be heard. Social can work if we apply context and understand the sample we are drawing information from.
The rules of bad media also apply to social media. We need to ensure we find ways to filter and accredit content. For now we rely on common sense and logic to applying balance.