Friday, July 19, 2024

The dangers and pleasures of Facebook

On the 9th February 2012 I was invited to a Facebook Marketing Seminar by a young and vibrant Managing Director of New Dawn Events and Exhibitions, Mr. Moagisi Zulu Gokatweng. The one day seminar featured Mr. Hugh McCabe: a Pretoria-based social media marketing consultant. In attendance were local entrepreneurs, a team from the Botswana Police Service, media personnel and persons from various government departments. One of the burning issues tackled was whether Facebook should be outlawed in Botswana. As Mr. Gokatweng explains it, the topic was motivated by the fact that whereas Facebook has come across as a positive social networking platform that presents tremendous marketing and public relations opportunities for organizations, it has been viewed from other quarters as a security risk. Some have argued that it cannot be left in the hands of one man hence the need for state control. It is this security argument that has led to some countries not allowing it within their shores.

In Botswana, Facebook is synonymous with youth culture, a phenomenon which makes many adults feel somewhat awkward about opening a Facebook account. Many who have opened such accounts leave them dormant. Even amongst the youthful, sometimes Facebook is associated with the rebellious characters who are unashamed of posting pictures of themselves exposing naked behinds accompanied by racy prose.

It is a given that there are certain challenges associated with Facebook. First, someone may use your name on Facebook and even upload your pictures, especially if you are a public figure such as a MP, minister or a celebrity lawyer. It is just like email. Someone can have an email address and pose as you. These are the realities of living and functioning on cyberspace. Unfortunately while we are familiar with the idea of security on the physical world; our sense of security on cyberspace is still primitive. People still give away passwords, while in the physical world they do not give away copies of their car or house keys. Some do not log out from their emails. This is as dangerous as leaving your door open when leaving your house, making your residence or electronic account susceptible to attack and stolen identity. Facebook is also a source of concern for states or governments that are concerned about the distribution of subversive material or the posting of offensive content. Some attribute the roots and planning of the Arab Spring to have been coordinated on social media such as Facebook. Facebook has therefore been used as a subversive tool to destabilize governments. Last year, pictures and videos of striking workers which were not seen on Btv were shared freely on Facebook. This scenario makes many states nervous about social media. The domain of social media remains a bit outside the reach and control of many governments though.

While the police could easily teargas a group of dancing protesters gathered under a morula tree; such teargas cannot be used on a group of angry protesters on a Facebook page. They communicate with each other at such lightning speech from every corner of the world. Worse, if they wish to exclude you from such a group and make the contents of such a group only visible to members, they would. Facebook could therefore become a platform for hate speech and become a national security threat.

Having said that, Facebook has too many positives which outweigh any negativity that may be associated with it. In this individualistic world of ours characterised by deep loneliness, Facebook satisfies our need to belong. It accords us friends though many of them you may have never met in person. It is easier to chat; to express whatever is on your mind, regardless of how trivial it is through Facebook. It allows you space to see and hear what others have to say. Facebook in many ways acts as a free personal blog for one to rumble as much as they like. You can upload your photos and any other document that you wish to share. For social groups such as churches and NGOs, Facebook is excellent. Campaigns can be launched and individuals invited to such events. It is therefore not surprising that BONELA and multiple local churches are on Facebook. Facebook is therefore important to the freedom of expression of nationals. Individuals can express themselves on any matter of their choice and join debates on any matter of interest. Minority groups as well as linguistic societies can create groups and engage with each other on matters of shared interest.

For instance, currently on Facebook there are over fifteen Setswana groups, each attempting to promote the Setswana language. Facebook is therefore important in strengthening democracy and according individuals space to express individual views. There are also Radio Stations such as Motsweding, DumaFm, Gabzfm and newspapers such as the WeekendPost and Mmegi on Facebook. Facebook also accords many businesses advertising which is much cheaper than the one in newspapers and television.

So, should the government be worried about Facebook? The answer is yes. The government should be worried that they as government are not on Facebook. I have seen a number of profiles of MPs such as Hon Venson-Moitoi, Hon Botsalo Ntuane and the Hon Dumelang Saleshando. We need more. Jeff Ramsay as a government spokesperson as well as Office of the President should be on Facebook to disseminate essential government information to various interested persons. Facebook will remain an important tool through which individuals may be reached. Because of its importance, all MPs, ministers, politicians, businesses should be on Facebook if they desire to reach as many people as possible.

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