“In the 21st century, they will be indispensable. But if we do not use them with an unfailing sense of social responsibility – they will be the death of us yet as society. That is why – as Bitange Ndemo used to admonish us – if individuals will not control their own impulses, then the government must intervene to catch and punish all rumour-mongers.”
Hehe hehe. Philip Ochieng, the society is going to die because people are just there tweeting! Well, this is an interesting call. When I first read the piece, I did not get the reason for the call. But you know with Philip, sometime you can miss the point behind the big words. I am a fan who sometimes goes through his pieces without getting anything until the last line.
Social media is an interesting space but I think Philip Ochieng is clearly wrong on this one. In the run up to the last general elections, there were similar calls especially by Ndemo for the Government to regulate Social Media. Yes the Post-election violence in 2008 is still fresh in the mind of many, but there is no evidence that it was caused by Social Media. To say the truth at the time the number of people who were in social Media were just a handful. At the time, Twitter was at its infancy and Facebook was still for a select few. Social Media in Kenya became a force after the arrival of the fiber cables back in 2009 and since then it has played more positive role than most people would want to admit. At the time Ndemo was calling for the regulation of Social Media, I remember bloggers putting politicians to task over some of their utterances. I remember one blogger translating some Kikuyu songs which were deemed to be spreading hatred against other communities. I am not sure how that case ended but that was social media at its best; helping arrest a potential threat for the well-being of the society.
How many of you remember Kenyans for Kenya? The idea was conceived on Social Media, as #FeedKE, before the big boys led by Safaricom took it over. Another Campaign which has been done mostly on Social Media is Bring Zack Back Home and the information I have is Zack is back home with smile on his face. Success. Some might not like Boniface Mwangi and his antics but Occupy Parliament organized through Social Media showed that the tweeting lot also care about how their taxes are being used
By the way there is something that most people never knew about Dr.Ndemo, especially during the time he was calling for the social media to be regulated. I had a chance together with a number of bloggers to talk to Ndemo privately just a few weeks before the elections and it came out clearly that he was not for the regulation but he was under huge pressure from the forces, which I can’t mention here, to do something. People were knocking on his door every single time urging him to do something. Ndemo knew that the uptake of the internet in Kenya is driven by the energy showed on Social Media and regulating it would be a bad idea. He gave us example of how the internet uptake and the online creativity in Japan took off because of the Porn, back in the days. So Ndemo on his wisdom took to the Media as a way to show the dark forces that he is doing something
Even before the elections I have asked myself several times if there is one crime in Kenya that can be attributed to Social Media. A crime that can be said to have been organized and executed through Social Media. I have found none. Yes, some people say nasty things about others but these are individuals that the current laws are capable of taking care of. But remember Philip is calling for the Government to regulate Social Media because of the rumor-mongers. During the JKIA Fire people started giving their thoughts after the fire broke out. People came up with a number of theories that caused Cabinet Secretary Eng Kamau to say that some of the people giving their opinions about the cause of the fire on twitter probably have never been at the Airport.
So it seems Philip took it over from there and thought the way forward is for the Government to regulate Social Media. Well, I got news for him. The main reason why rumours have got legs on social media is because the media has stopped doing their job. The media stopped asking questions. The current mainstream media is like a parrot, repeating the talking points and posting press releases. Nobody within the media fraternity is asking the critical questions of why, why not and what next. In the absence of that, social media has taken the role which essentially should be played by the mainstream media. Remember that the media has the resources to investigate and to get to the bottom of matters of interest especially when they suspect that someone is involved on something. Social Media on the other hand relies on crowd sourcing. One individual would post the issue up and people from different places and with different level of knowhow on the matter come in to complete the story. That is why in blogging we have a comments section. The blogger starts the story and the crowds from different parts of the world or the country come in and complete the story.
In some cases the originator of the story might not be a hundred percent right but the corrective nature of the Social Media ensures that at the end of the day, the right stories are being told. At this point we have to also mention that Media Houses themselves are not always right on the stories they tell. That is why we have seen several people saying that they have been misquoted. We also seen a number time the media house issuing apologies for the stories which initially they thought were right. Can you call that rumor mongering? May be, right!
Talking about JKIA fire if Philip and his fellow journalists were reading the comments on Social Media carefully, they would have realized that people were not impressed with the way the media covered the event.