Digital media, social activism, and democracy

Digital media, social activism, and democracy

Naturally, a human being is a social being and derives pleasure and satisfaction through interactions. In pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction, human beings tend to find an unlevelled ground in political, social, and economic spheres. They, therefore, invoke internal and external instincts to strike a balance and remain afloat in their ecosystems. Historically, rebellions and resistances were a means to challenge socio-political and economic inequalities. As time went by, and with the emergence of advanced technology, digital platforms are slowly but steadily taking centre stage in aiding social activism which is a bedrock for transforming the human ecosystem.   

Unlike in the past decade, digital communication has completely changed the face of the world in social, economic, and political aspects. In a turn of events, social media came and revolutionized social, economic, and political spheres of life. Social systems have been improved as people have devised new ways of connecting. The ease of access to information has improved social activism and democratic practices. The last decade saw governments in North Africa and the Middle East crumbling was attributed to digital communication, particularly social media. The rise in awareness due to social media left many youths informed of the ills of the autocratic regimes in this part of the world. As a result, they rose in large numbers, mobilized, and sensitized fellow youths to demand a democratic dispensation. In the end, governments in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain did not survive the wave that was later to be known as the Arab Spring.

Away from mere activism, the digital age and specifically social media has empowered youths especially in the global south with the capacity to share their experiences and engage in public debates with ease. Through Twitter spaces, Webinars, Microsoft Teams, among others, the youths can now connect and debate on public policy a space that was reserved for experts and opinion leaders, world over. This has facilitated a paradigm shift and a convergence of ideas from policymakers, activists, and leaders in the quickest very possible. Digital media has greatly contributed to diminishing the gap between the masses and top leaders. Unlike in the past where people had no access to global leaders, people can now access leaders and speak to them in a blink of an eye.

With easy access and breaking barriers for dialogue, governance issues no longer remain in the shadows. Citizens can task leaders to account for their actions. Across the world, government agencies and ministries have dedicated platforms for sharing information with citizens. In electoral democracy, the digital age has seen voting by email take place, for example in the just concluded USA elections. Even before voting, the entire process of campaigning in almost every corner of the world is recharged and ignited by digital media live broadcasts, and newsfeeds that reach audiences in a timely manner.

The social divide has practically been closed save for infrastructural and political challenges experienced in the developing world. In as much as most people in the global south are restricted by infrastructural challenges and in most cases political restrictions, largely, individuals have had a chance to utilize the means and ways of changing their lifestyle through digital media. From a social perspective, fundraising is conducted easily to cater to community ills. This has increased the growth of social systems and safety nets at the community level. Today, in communities across sub-Saharan Africa, when the bridge breaks, individuals in a community can easily mobilize themselves through digital media and solve a problem before government intervention.

Miladi (2016) is of the view that the coming of digital media has led to a vibrant way of political campaigning, social activism and provided an outstanding platform to the marginalized groups of the society such as youth and women to actively participate in the matters that affect them. Miladi further notes that the overwhelming victory of the 44th US president Barrack Obama whose campaign was aided by digital media such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. From that day onwards, the model of political campaigns and social activism has never been the same. The Obama win in the US that had the youths at the centre was a sparking point that precipitated the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East.

Another scholar, Boler (2010) notes that the growth in digital media has shaped the way public debate and narrative are handled. Before this, TVs and radios were highly censored as editorial policies were too strict and conservative. The emergency of global news Channels particularly Al Jazeera changed the face of media practice. The channel came to prominence when it started the approach of broadcasting live events as they unfold. This was first witnessed in the US invasion of Iraq in 2002, as Al Jazeera dispatched journalists to report live from the frontline. Since then, the culture of news broadcasts changed worldwide. News and events are broadcast live on TV and news outlets' social media handles. It has minimized the possibility of deception in storytelling surrounding news and happenings in the contemporary world. This is attributed to the fact that whoever tries to lie about any issue, social media and digital media in general will be available to fact check. Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent, emphasizes the philosophy of being truthful and not neutral. This has replaced the traditional objective of journalism of being neutral as opposed to being truthful. According to Christiane Amanpour, being neutral means that you as much as possible to find a middle ground even at a point when it is not there.

The most challenging task ahead is for political and social activists in the global south where political mobilization is a ‘crime,’ to think of maximizing the opportunity provided by digital communication. In the case of Uganda, in as much as political and social activists have utilized digital spaces, radical extremists dominate the area whose capacity to mobilize is limited by their inability to trade an objective opinion. Instead of convincing people to join their cause, their agenda is anchored on coercion of those with divergent views into submission. As NRM in collaboration with security hunts down activists physically, the radical extremists on the opposition side are virtually hunting down their fellows with insults, character assassination, and cyberbullying. As a result, the political playground is getting even more toxic as time goes by.  

A million-dollar question remains on whether sober forces of change like The Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) can assert their constructive political message in an ocean of insults and character assassinations. Because, if they fail, we are all bound to lose as a nation. All said and done, what shapes people’s opinions is the perception and the presence of the story in their ears and eyes. Therefore, those who organize and prepare the country for advanced political discourse must organize to match the level of those who tend to radicalize. This calls for political actors to place digital communication at the heart of their activities and create synergies between the mainstream public relations wing and the social media perspective. One would argue that we are doing it; let’s find out whether what is being done is enough to shape a public opinion and ultimately effective a move in the right direction. Until then, we have a lot to do as forces of change and those who are hoping for a bright future of this great nation.

For God and My Country!

Sedrack Atuhaire | Email:

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