Rapid development in social networking technologies over the last four decades has transformed the way people communicate, creating social capital and economic wealth, and political awareness. As stated by Valenzuela et al., (2009), new avenues and opportunities are opening up for global communities to use the network intelligence to enhance their reach for social interaction, information and knowledge resources, games and entertainment, as well as, business and markets. The present-day social network sites have shifted to more digitally collaborative platforms that integrate distinct social media services on the Web all in one online site.
However, the effects that the emergence of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube as well as blogging environments and online discussion fora, have had on political processes remain controversial and not well understood. Indeed, much discourse in this field seems to be driven as much by political ideology itself, as it does by rigorous academic enquiry. There is a strong will to believe that these social media are indeed making political processes more democratic, and yet the evidence is not always there to support such assertions.
Most technologies have unintended consequences, with innately adaptive human beings frequently finding new and often very different uses for a device. Different individuals and groups within their citizenries can use them in different ways. The use of social media in northern Africa and the Middle East in recent years has seen very different outcomes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iran (Arab Social Media Report, 2011).
The growth of social media especially since the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world and the shift in usage trends have played a critical role in mobilization, empowerment, shaping opinions, and influencing change in the region (Ibid). While some governments tried to resist changes emerging in their societies by blocking access to social media websites, on the other hand, the more responsive governments tried to take advantage of the growth of social media especially the Facebook usage among the mostly young population by putting new guidelines and policies in place.
In essence, it would therefore appear that while social media have undoubtedly changed the political map, this may not necessarily have been in the interests of the poorest and most marginalized or even of democracy. There has been change, but whether it is for the better depends very largely on the perspectives of the observer. Just because mobile phones are becoming very common in many countries does not mean that vastly greater numbers of people are actual using social media on their mobiles to enhance democracy. Moreover, mobile phones are also used extensively by those who are seeking violently to change governments through war.
It is important to reflect on the ways that ICTs are actually being used to counter democratic processes, because so doing can help develop understandings of the policies that need to be in place to resist such actions. There was widespread recognition that it is not just companies and governments that can use social media for negative purposes, and that individuals and small groups intent on using it for bullying or violent actions, are equally problematic. To challenge the negative dominance of some minority groups, it is therefore important for governments actively to engage in responding to ‘negative’ uses of social media especially the Facebook. Given that the major social media sites are increasingly prevalent, boycotting them is now becoming very difficult or unthinkable; imagine a world without Gmail or Google’s search engine, or Google maps.
Facebook is among the popular social networking sites which has about a billion of users. Facebook has made the world more open and connected like a small village. It brings stronger relationships with those we love, a stronger economy with more opportunities, and a stronger society that reflects all of our values.
Facebook is both an asset and a liability for democracy either to flourish or to spoil. Over the last generation, there’s been a big shift in the way people find news stories. We used to get our news from the morning newspaper and the nightly news. Nowadays, most of us get the news from our cellphones via the Facebook channel. The result has been a disaster for the public’s understanding of current affairs. Partisans share totally fake stories from fringe websites. That has worsened nations’ political polarization and lowered the quality of democratic discourse. Facebook media has the power to change even the outcomes of elections.
Jakub Goda, (2016) explained fake news is a real problem on Facebook. Facebook displays billions of fake news which result in subscribers to reach at wrong decisions every day. Steering people to sensational, one-sided, or just plain inaccurate stories. In addition to this, this social media has been exposed to be exploited by some individuals and groups for disseminating narrow-nationalism and extremisms in many countries. Such cases have also been seen in Ethiopia during the recent public protests in various regional states.
Fake news isn’t new. It often accompanies populist revival eras in politics. These things go hand in hand. Particularly, Fake news explodes in popularity in times of political polarization and distrust of the establishment mainstream media included. Stopping the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories is a unique challenge in the digital age. And it’s difficult to measure how bad information influences democratic processes like a presidential election. Whether President Trump’s paths to the White House do share an important feature of which were accompanied by a resurgence of fake news.
The Facebook media has an outsized influence on the opinions they form and the way they think. Facebook wields an amount of power that is unprecedented in human history. Practically, it is influencing elections around the world.
In a year of populist uprisings and electoral upsets, Facebook has become a cesspit of fascist, xenophobic, religious extremist and racist sentiments. Jakub Goda, (2016) argues that conspiracy theories and fake news stories circulate at an unprecedented volume and speed poisoning not just the public discourse, but national politics. Bolstered by lies, propaganda and hate-fueled viral content, Ethiopia’s opposition political parties found within and abroad are doing disproportionately well on Facebook by posting and sharing intolerable and divisive texts, images and videos that are cooked or overstated.
The current negative sides or impacts of the Facebook social media can be changed and used in such a way that can contribute to the developmental-democratic activities of Ethiopia in a substantial level.
By using the Facebook media itself, a dedicated institutionalized organization should be established so as to counter and defuse fake news posted or shared by undemocratic, ethnocentric, chauvinist and extremist individuals and groups who are conspiring through the media to illegally violate and dissolve the constitution by planting hatred and intolerance among the various multicultural societies of Ethiopia.
Moreover, that organization would also work hard intellectually in a persuading way to counter bigotry, prejudice, as well as undemocratic-inequality depicting posts on the Facebook pages, and would strive to minimize emotional, misperceptions and misconceptions about a particular group of people or different people that are posted or shared or liked on the Facebook pages.
Besides, it would use the media itself to foster sprite of cooperation, equality, and diversity within unity, among the different nation, nationalities and peoples of the country. By utilizing the media effectively it would be possible to preach tolerance and respect thereby collect adherents (especially the Youth) who can be potential guardians of the constitution.
Besides, this social media can be capitalized for the benefit of exposing fake data and information that are used to be posted, shared, commented and liked by the undemocratic and extremist individuals. Moreover, the most vulnerable youth who are users of the Facebook media can be made aware of about how to promote Facebook media’s positive impacts on advocating democratic thinking among the multicultural societies of the nation, and how to protect and neutralize that social media’s negative consequences on the country’s overall economic development.
Valenzuela et al., (2009). Available at:- http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01474.x/full
Arab Social Media Report, (May 2011). Civil Movements: The Impact of Facebook and Twitter. Vol 1, No 2. Dubai School of Governance.
Jakub Goda, (2016). The far-right’s Facebook megaphone. Populists and the far right are dominating social media.