Social Media: The Rise and Fall of Social and Cultural Morality (Part 1)

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The proliferation of internet access and an increase in mobile phone subscriptions in Namibia and globally, necessitated assumptions, debates and enabled greater digital participation of youth and adults in the political sphere.

These assumptions and debates led to a decline in the moral obligation of our citizens being questioned. Social media can be defined as interactive computer-mediated technologies or websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking and virtual communities, share information, ideas, personal messages and other contents such as videos and audios. Some of the popular social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and LinkedIn.

All these platforms can be accessed via mobile phones. Some studies reported that over 500,000 Namibians are on these platforms. The presence of youth on social media platforms is said to be higher than the elders’ online presence.

Although Namibia is characterised by a high national unemployment rate at 34% especially among the youth, which stands at 43%, the majority of the youth in Namibia own mobile phones for easy communication purposes (NSA, 2017). There are reportedly more mobile phones than the size of our population. It is said that more males own mobile phones than their female counterparts. It is very interesting that, even the youth from marginalised communities have access and own mobile phones. There are two groups of mobile phone owners in Namibia: those that own smart phones that can enable them to have access to internet services including mobile social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and others and non-smart phone owners. This can be attributed to affordable phones available at Indian and various Chinese shops around the country.

Interestingly, Social Media are currently praised for creating digital publics whereby citizens from different corners can meet at their convenience to debate, discuss, share and educate each other on various issues that affect their lives regardless of their political affiliation, social class, ethnicity, age, education level or employment status. My latest observation on various platforms in Namibia is that, citizens create social media pages on Facebook or other platforms to serve as meeting and discussion points of various political, social, economic and technological issues. This can best be described by the increasing and mushrooming of various Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups joined by citizens especially the youth.

Fascinatingly, University graduates, youth from well-off families and grade 12 school leavers tend to dominate these digital platforms than any other group. Mostly youth in urban and semi-urban areas are more on social media than others due to the digital divide that cripples the democratic digital sphere. Analysis of few social media pages in Namibia revealed that political parties, government agencies and ministries have created these platforms, however there is less engagement and interactions with the grassroots level. Many of these sites are not updated regularly. These are commendable e-democracy initiatives by citizens to create political and social networks for inclusivity and social coherence.

While others gain and benefit through digital literacy and information sharing, others go so low by discrediting others, calling others different names, vilifying and blackmailing others, destroying their personal identities and that of their relatives/families, revealing private and confidential issues, recording personal and private mobile conversations and share them on social media, share their half-naked or sexual revealing pictures on social media, expressing their anger and frustration on these platforms rather than seeking clarifications and advises from appropriate and relevant offices or experts; judging and crucifying elders publicly which is against our cultural norms as Africans. All these issues led to societal morality being questioned.

• Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka, is a Citizen Engagement, Social Media and Politics Researcher at the School of History, Culture and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He is also a Lecturer for Educational Technologies and Research at the University of Namibia, Department of Lifelong Learning and Community Education. E-mail: shihomeka@eshcc.eur.nl

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