Does Social Media Matter for International Development?

On the 24th April I uploaded a video that Martin Scott and I produced, ‘Does Media Matter for International Development?’

The video has 1,400 views and been shared by a lot of relevant organisations and individuals working in the field of media development such as BBC Media Action, Global Peace Index, Centre for International Media Assistance and the International Broadcasting Trust how technology can improve payroll operations. Both Martin and I have been incredibly pleased with the response to the video.

The following day Gary Turk a writer/producer based in the UK released a video called Look Up about people spending too much time on their computers, tablets, mobile phones and social media. Ironically, the video has gone viral with over 34 million views. It’s a great example of virality through successful story telling. In an interview with the BBC one journalist describes the video as annoying, cheesey and nostalgic, Turk responds by saying ” I think she’s trying to read too much into my video a little bit, it’s just a little film I made.” I agree with Turk, it is being over analysed, some people will agree with the content, others will disagree, but the narrative has certainly caught people’s attention. What I don’t agree with is that it’s “just a little video”. Sure, I doubt Turk expected it to be so successful, but I’m pretty convinced that he did attempt to make a viral, otherwise why spend so much time writing a script and making a slick, well produced video. I congratulate Turk for his success and I’m sure this video will do his career no harm whatsoever.

What I like about this film is that it has made me think about the role of social media again. Only yesterday I was reading a report on social media trends in Kenya in preparation for a talk I am delivering in Nairobi in June. The report advocates the use of social media as a tool for business, freedom of speech and media development. I too am an advocate for social media, but we must also be aware of all the negative aspects such as propaganda, censorship, corruption, hate speech, bullying, pornography, fraud and so on.

Last week there was also a global campaign on social media to #BringBackOurGirls to raise awareness about the 276 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The campaign has been shared by millions of people across the world including Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, and Ellen DeGeneres. It is also been widely covered and discussed in the global media. Some people have compared the campaign to Kony 2012, others disagree. People around the world have been alerted to this atrocity and this cannot be a bad thing – can it?

The most publicised impact of social media has been the Arab Spring and other protests around the world from Occupy Wall Street to Euromaidan and the Midia Ninja in Brazil using the build up to the World Cup to protest for rights and democracy. But social media have also been instrumental in disaster management response in Haiti, Japan and the Philippines to name but a few. Additionally it enables more transparency and accountability across the world. China is a great example of how citizen journalism and digital activism are a catalyst for media development.

There is no contention that inequalities still exist with three fifths of the world still unconnected, but with falling prices of mobile phones and mobile internet, the digital divide is closing at a dramatic pace. With these new netizens it is important that local content contributes to the future of social media, as well as continuing global conversations so that social media really does matter for international development.

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