The good, the bad uses of social media
“Did you see the video featuring one African President’s daughter in Rwanda or was it Kenya, Congo or Tanzania? It’s a bad video my friend. It is bad,” says my cousin Reuben.
He was speaking to his friend Sam. We are in a restaurant that serves authentic Zimbabwean dishes in Harare. Sam is visiting from Denmark where he has been based for several years, working for an IT company.
“What is on it?” I ask. They both laugh and Reuben says, “You do not want to see it Sisi. No, you do not. But I am curious as one does, when you know that you have missed out on some interesting news on social media. The whole idea of social media is to stay connected and to know what is going on. You do not want to be left behind in this technology age.”
Although they spare me the details, I am able to gather that in the early hours of the morning last Saturday, a tape featuring Congo-Brazzaville’s President’s daughter, Claudia Sassou Nguesso was leaked on the Internet. Reuben saw the tape because he reads the news on the Internet when he wakes up, which is usually around 4am.
Reuben does not describe in detail what he saw, except that the tape was not proper. Yainyadzisa zvikuru. Reuben says technology has gone mad. It is not fair to record a private intimate video and then release it on the global stage for everyone to see. In the tape, Claudia is supposedly in a compromised situation when a former friend who had become her enemy, decided to punish her and tell the world about some incidents. Whatever the incidents, says Reuben, Claudia has a right to privacy, just like everyone else.
“But why did Claudia allow anyone to take an intimate video of her?” asks Sam . . . “People misuse social media and record what should not be recorded. I have seen some photos and writing on Facebook which should never be put on the Internet or anyone´s phone.” Reuben agrees. Sam tells us that in Zimbabwe, people have yet to learn how to use social media and determine what is proper and improper then quickly delete what is totally unethical, uncultured, unorthodox , zvinhu zvisina hunhu, zvinonyadzisa kana zvisingatauriki.
We live in the age of social media. There are many channels of communication. You can use Facebook, Facetime, Linked-In, WhatsApp, Twitter, Skype, Yukos, Vimeo, Tinder, Tumbler, WeChat and many others. There are also dating and gaming sites. These days, social media has increasingly become part of our everyday life.
Technology has given us exciting and fast methods of communication. At the touch of a button, we are able to send photos or videos of a newborn child, songs, videos of weddings and funerals. We can read the news on line and communicate face to face with loved ones who live in the Diaspora or elsewhere. We can communicate with one person or multiple people across the globe in the split of a second. Indeed, social media presents a powerful tool to help us feel connected to the global community.
This way, we experience a sense of togetherness and belonging. We have ways to tell others how we feel so that we can feel loved, secure and happy to be connected. Indeed, we find ourselves living in a global village which is defined by social networks and the internet. It is normal for us to keep a phone next to us, wherever we are.
In most houses in the more affluent suburbs, you will find Baba, Mai, the children, Sis the maid and Bhudhi the gardener connected to the Internet or interacting by WhatsApp or other forms of social media. In the village, I have seen Mai Zii, Mai Karo and the other women with cellphones around their necks like a necklace. They carry the phones to church, to the grinding mill and everywhere. They are able to receive messages at any time.
The women share information. They know which phone receives photographs and videos and which phone can receive money via EcoCash. But, there are some negative effects of social media that present a serious threat to our way of life, to our hunhu as people.
Some of these negative aspects include misrepresentation of facts, spreading fake news or outright defamation of someone´s character. One time, someone sent me a dancing image of Barack Obama , the former US president. He was singing Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller” and gyrating his pelvis and singing the way Michael used to sing and dance.
You could tell that this was definitely Obama’s face, but not his body. This was not the first time I had seen such mischievous super imposition of a person’s body. The creation of images to misrepresent people is common and people do it as a joke, though this can be disrespectful bad humour.
Some people are also keen to sell news, any news, because they have so much access to social media. A person is injured badly in an accident. People who get there first start taking pictures before calling for an ambulance. The onlookers immediately become live broadcasters of news and they send reports to friends and relatives about this horrific accident.
You can learn about the death of someone on social media before the next of kin know about it. An accident happens in Kenya and someone mischievously presents it as if it happened in Zimbabwe. The other day, my cousin Piri’s friend in Highfield sent a photo of an old lady eating a rat.
The message said something about the old woman’s obsession with eating live creatures like frogs, lizards and live birds. Piri forwarded the gory picture of this Ambuya eating a lizard. When I saw the photo, I tried to close my eyes while I deleted it.
I told Piri that she really should not send such images. What was interesting or entertaining about a person eating a live lizard? Apart from being unpleasant to look at, the images were not informative or entertaining. Piri said I ought to be glad that I do not receive many embarrassing and sometimes outright immoral photos or videos that go around social media channels.
Every day, whether you are in a kombi or a bus or even in church, people are busy communicating on social media. They send good and bad information. According to Dr Rukanda, an IT expert, technology is to blame for disrupting the social lives of people. In one article, he notes that technology is quickly replacing the role of family conversation. Information is now available in what he calls dandemutande or “masaisai ekokorodzano nedura reruzivo hwezvinhu zvose.”
By this term, he is referring to the significant impact of the Internet and its use in everyday life. Despite disrupting family talks and communication, social media helps us to stay connected and to be acknowledged by others. This way, we feel secure and loved. But how long can this sense of security and being loved last? Only for a very short time.
We are being fooled to believe this connection is real and lasts for a long time. Social media connects us to people on a superficial level. This mode of communication cannot replace the true personal intimacy and physical interaction that we get when we talk to each other face to face.
While we celebrate this connectedness brought by social media, we mourn the dearth of physical connection, looking at each other in the eyes as we speak and the disappearing protocol based interaction like kneeling down and saying to an elder, “Makadii Chirombowe?”
But, we cannot afford to live without the internet and social media as modes of communication.
We are already deeply immersed in social media. Daily we log on to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and YouTube and other forums. We must stay connected. The dangers of social media do not lie in social media itself. No. These problems lie in the way we use and misuse social media.
Just like many communication tools, social media can be used in our favour or against us. As such, we should work towards using it to positively connect us without entrapping or betraying us. There should be ground rules, mutemo, to avoid the potential dangers of social media and how this can affect personal relationships.
More importantly, to protect our privacy, we should remember that some information cannot be shared on social media. Nhumbu mukadzi mukuru, haitauri chaadya.