DIGITAL COMMUNICATION STAKEHOLDERS DEBATE ON SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN ALTERNATIVE FOR SHRINKING CIVIC SPACE

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Development and the use of social media has been increasing all over the world serving the purpose of communication and information sharing amongst the public and institutions including the government, triggering the state to adopt social media as one of the important alternatives to reach out to the masses. In Tanzania, this also seems the case as the government attempts to accomplish various e-government goals providing public services to its citizens.

This was revealed at the Policy Forum Breakfast entitled “Is Social Media an Alternative Forum under the Context of Shrinking Space in Tanzania? ” based on a research by Dr. Aikande Kwayu aimed at exploring whether civic activities have shifted to social media in Tanzania.

Expounding on her research, she acknowledged that most entities in Tanzania including political party leaders have engaged social media as a tool for outreach to vocalizing their agenda to the community allowing candidates to communicate directly with citizens, keeping control of the content, distribution and timing of their messages, as well as reducing their dependence on traditional intermediaries such as journalists

Articulating her testimony Dr. Kwayu responded that she was personally affected by the Online Content Regulations as she was forced to shut down her blog not because of the annual fees that was put up against bloggers but because the regulations were too general and not clear on what they aim to achieve.

However, the government has also used social media to inform the public on new presidential appointments and development related issues for instance on Instagram , the state house has a page known as @ikulu_mawasiliano which is applied for communication between the state house and a wide range of Tanzanians who are also Instagram users.

“Fake news is real!” said Dr. Muhidin Shangwe of the University of Dar es Salam who was the discussant of the debate. There is a huge importance in the accuracy of information disseminated as it may mislead the end user.

Highlighting on internet censorship, Dr. Shangwe indicated more than two million people in China are employed by the government to monitor web activity, providing a rare glimpse into how the state tries to control the internet[i]

It was debated that social media can be used as a tool to instigate collective actions such as Arab Spring protests. Some of these digital protests may succeed and others may prove futile such as an incident that happened on April 26th , 2018 whereby a Tanzanian blogger who resides in the United States known as Mange Kimambi mobilized people on Instagram to protest against the current regime.

Dr. Kwayu highlighted as closing remarks the following as recommendation; Civic space is not given to an individual , it needs to be created it by being more vigilant and there is a need to filter the relevance of news differentiate fake news from real.

 

[i] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-24396957

 

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