Debate is the lifeblood of democracy. Wherever it happens – in the town hall, on the streets, in your lounge, around your neighbours kitchen table – or on twitter. Politicans need to understand the power of social media to reach citizens.
One of the criticisms leveled at social media is that too few South Africans have access to computers. No one denies this. But that argument ignores the vast potential of mobile phones.
These days, social media is mushrooming because of mobile phones.
Facebook and twitter subscriber numbers are growing. And MXIT is the largest social media platform in South Africa – with around 15 million subscribers. It is easy to dismiss “computer-based” social media as only being relevant to the wealthy elite, but that argument doesn’t wash any more. Not when we have around 100% mobile penetration in South Africa.
Julius Malema has been incensed by twitter accounts claiming his title and, in a fit of fury, the ANCYL lashed out and said that twitter should be shut down.
Of course that has just brought on more commentary on the platform.
Just a few months ago, the ANC Youth League blew off online commentators who were concerned about media freedom as desktop activists. But now he’s upset at the attention he’s getting on twitter – when really he should be amused.
There’s no such thing as bad PR, and Malema’s maverick style always seems to attract headlines and keep him embroiled in controversy.
Politicians, not unlike other leaders in the country (businessmen, NGO directors, government officials) may be afraid of social media. Mostly because it’s unknown. And can be hijacked by your constituency. But then therein lies the power of social media – it allows people to participate, rather than be told what to do.
Malema and other politicians would do well to stop frothing at the fringes and engage in real debate about real issues. People use different platforms to engage in debate – because they want a real conversation. The poverty and inequality experienced by many South Africans leads people to collective action, and they are using platforms to voice their opinions. They can also use these platforms to work together – with government – to build a better society for us all.
Two things worth remembering:
Mobile phone penetration in SA is very high – most people have a phone or access to a phone. For anyone really wanting to hear what their constituency has to say, they need to be using mobile platforms to engage citizens.
Conversation is a two way stream – politicians want to talk and be heard – but they must also be willing to listen – on whatever platform citizens are using to voice their concerns. Publically elected officials should be listening to the concerns of citizens and addressing them. This happens in lekgotlas, in community meetings, in ward committee meetings, in cabinet, in parliament. But it also happens on social media platforms like twitter. Closing down a platform won’t stop the debate.
Instead of trashing twitter, politicians should be using the platform to engage citizens in a social contract that builds a better democracy for us all.
follow – @afrosocialmedia