Lately, we have seen exponential growth in the utilisation of social media platforms as communication and information dissemination tools by both the private and public sector organisations, as well as individuals. This is in line with the latest development, upgrade and updates in the global digital market that can allow organisations and even individuals to save costs in terms of transport, accommodation facilities and enhancing productivity or service provision.
Mainly, citizens can access these social media platforms through mobile devices hence the name mobile social media. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram can easily be accessed through mobile phones and if an individual does not have it, he or she is likely not to get that information or prone to getting half-cooked information in the form of fake news, disinformation or misinformation as the digital literate citizens can manipulate original messages to fit their digital evangelism actions.
To ensure citizens do not fall victims for these ill-gotten tendencies, first, you should be able to buy or get someone to buy it for you, it should not be a non-smartphone which made it a little bit expensive for the excluded population. We need to remind ourselves that, social media enable citizens to create, share, generate, manipulate, record and take pictures, texts or information that can be shared within the public platform. And most of the mobile phone we are buying nowadays can perform these activities.
Though we are trying to be inclusive in our activities and actions, the societal members are found to be categorised into two main groups: Digitally Endowed Citizens (DECs) and Digitally Excluded Population (DEP). To digest this a bit, digitally endowed population are citizens who are in a position of digital devices, digitally literate and can make use of these devices to take part in decision making, discuss public discourses or critic government actions or to a certain extent they are gossiping others who are not on various digital platforms. This can mainly be found in a group of youngsters (Netzens) who can manipulate texts, images/pictures and share them on various platforms without the knowledge of the victims that are being discussed or whose images and reputations are being tarnished. Though this is against digital ethics and principles, it is currently happening as the victims have no other way of finding out that they are being digitally ridiculed online. More so, those in the know-how tend to be more ignorant and siding with the perpetrators of these illegal actions of talking or vilifying other citizens online while you know that they have no ways of accessing or seeing these discussions. Mostly these can be found under the working/economic active population, though students and tertiary institutions can be part of this.
Another group of the population is what we call Digitally Excluded Populations (DEPs). This group of citizens in most cases are above the age of 55 years as stated in some literature. Mostly, they do not own digital devices such as laptops, mobile phones, Personal Computers and have no access to internet connectivity/network. However, if they own, they either have non-smartphones, no social media pages or accounts. This group of citizens are also mostly found in rural or remote areas and only a few that know the difference between a smartphone and non-smartphones. To make it worse, since most of the information or messages disseminated through these devices or platforms are in English, they usually feel left out as they may not have anyone closer to them to do the translation.
Citizens in this group are of different types: a) Self-excluded citizens: they decided not to own a digital gadget, not necessarily that they cannot afford, but because they failed to see an economic/social value of owning it or having a social media account; b) Issue-driven exclusion: mostly their partners restricted them from owning or accessing social media platforms as they are accusing them or either gossiping them or being jealousy.
In addition, these citizens may have committed a serious offence and they do not want to be located; c) digital divide exclusion: simply because they are living in an area, be it a village or constituency with poor network connectivity or due to poverty they cannot afford to buy gadgets, d) scared of being exposed to digital hallucination: mostly these citizens heard or seen others being harassed, insulted, ridiculed online and they just decided to stay away from online discussions. That made them more prone to digital exclusion when it comes to updates and current affairs.
Literally, they tend to consume old news and hardly engage in virtual discussions; e) cultural/religious forbidden citizens: they are restricted from accessing Internet pages or social media platforms or owning digital gadgets as these devices are believed to be more demonic. Since they believe in that, they are being left out and their news consumption rate heavily depended on traditional media.
I am aware of various efforts such as sending messages through radio services, Television and Newspapers or holding community meetings, but to be honest this group of the population (DEPs) remain behind since not all of them access these platforms. So, does this means that there is no way we can communicate messages without excluding someone? Does it mean we have citizens that never participated in public discourses? If so, what are the government and civil societies doing to minimise this effect?
Additionally, our network coverage still needs to be expanded to all regions in Namibia. Digital ethics cannot be left out as our as citizens tend to be smarter after being educated and will end up abusing digital devices and platforms.
Therefore, we need to instil ethical values in our citizens to ensure that mobile devices and social media platforms are being used for the betterment of the society and for the society to remain updated and be on par with current affairs around the globe.
*Dr Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka holds a PhD in Media and Communication from Erasmus University Rotterdam. He writes in his capacity as a researcher. He can be reached at email@example.com.