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Interesting week it was

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With Lorraine Lusinje:

The past week was very interesting on the country’s political and social scenes. The city of Blantyre saw a show of political colours and fanfare and the unveiling of running mates. It has been dubbed the most dramatic week in Malawi, apparently.

What was very interesting about the past week was what somebody summed up as the beneficiaries of the events being mobile service providers. This is because of the social media commentaries that were running through the events, resulting in an upsurge of airtime and data usage. All one had to do was log on to Facebook, Twitter or view WhatsApp statuses and one would have the videos, pictures and updates complete with opinions and analyses. Social media carried not just the day but the week.

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Social media is taking public debate to new heights that were not previously possible or even anticipated. I remember reading that most previous elections in the United States had been highly influenced by social media; both politicians and the citizenry use it as a tool. At this stage, it looks like that is where Malawi is heading to. We have just about three months to the elections and social media waves are already roaring. Social media has made everyone an expert at something and social media influencers are becoming even more and more popular.

With social media, the previous role of the press as gatekeepers of information has been slightly diluted. Now, people access information in its raw form minutes after it happens or as it is happening. There is no longer patience to wait for radio or TV stations and the newspapers to process it and air it hours later or print it; and, essentially, not all events can be live. Nowadays, media houses have been shifted from gatekeepers to legitimisers of news; people access information and wait for media houses to air or publish it, therefore, making the news legitimate.

As much social media has diluted the role of gatekeepers, which on its own has some negative consequences on society at large, social media is consequently propelling more citizens to take part in conversations about the affairs that affect them, their-welfare, their livelihood and their country.

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When an incident happens, social media provides a platform for corporates, industry, government and civil society organisations to gauge feedback from any development. In the past, we needed a survey just to know what people think about a product, change in policy, a development or an event.

However, we are still a bit biased about the matters that we become vocal about. We are unusually inclined towards controversy, trivia and cheap politics. There are many affairs in the country that require the citizenry to rise up and speak and call for change and act: corruption, climate change, sexual and domestic abuse, healthcare and justice just to mention a few. We need to recognise the importance of the power of our voice and put it to work in developing our country and our communities.

Social media has become part of our day-to-day tools. We use it in our professional lives, social lives and with our personal lives. It remains a useful tool that comes with a huge responsibility when using. More people in Malawi are using technology that allows them to access social media and we are becoming more and more connected. We can underestimate the power of social media at our peril which also calls for us to be more selective and analytical about the information we digest through social media as there are no gatekeepers.

Lastly, a round of applause for the interesting commentary last week.

I rest my case.

 

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