Social media is not that social – Opinion/Editorial

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Social media might go on being known as such: ‘social’ media. However, judging by how we use that media in Tanzania, it is anything but social.

Recently, a renown lawyer-cum-social commentator and entrepreneur, Mr Jenerali Ulimwengu, declared that he had opted out of Facebook because it had become anti-social.

In a sense, social media has become like the proverbial “Tower of Babel” in Biblical literature [Genesis 11:1-9]: an origin myth meant to explain why the world’s peoples speak different languages.

No matter how nice Tanzanians may pretend to be, the fact of the matter is that the social media is where our true basic nature comes to the fore.

Most recently, a prominent lady commentator said she learned from/through the social media that her blood brother had died. The news was already spreading like wildfire when the hospital called her to break what was by then old news.

When Facebook co-founder Mark Elliot Zuckerberg launched it on February 4, 2004, I am sure he had no intention that it becomes the platform for all manner of engagements: the serious, the family kind – and even the fiery war zone that so many times seems to dominate debates through indomitable hashtag battles.

In 2018, we are going to see more as, obviously, on our shores, none has dominated hashtags and attention as has Ms Mange Kimambi.

Nothing goes unsaid on her popular Instagram account. If there was ever a need to do a master’s degree thesis on “the how and where” to mobilize through social media, Ms Kimambi’s Instagram stardom in Tanzania would make an interesting case study.

The challenge, though, is what standards we would ascribe to discuss a Mange Kimambi Instagram account as a raving success – when you wouldn’t wish some of the stuff that gets posted there on your worst political adversary.

It is not too far off the mark to say that her instantaneous stardom was born out of more than what any “Hamisi, Samueli or Kainerugaba” (Tom, Dick and Harry) would know about.

As the Mange fame soars, another social media account which in its heyday used to paint its pages red with all the leading advertisers seems to virtually be on its knees today.

What was once a popular source of news for the high and mighty in Tanzania, run by a prominent journalist, is no longer the page every Tanzanian in the diaspora visited to find out about what was going on in their motherland.

To be honest, the fates of these two blogs are intertwined among the readers they are all fighting for. These two social media interlocutors make for a great study on what is a successful social media campaign, what drives it and what would make a social media sustainable.

In my view, both the approaches are unsustainable for one major reason. While one depends on proximity to the powers-that-be, the other is hooked on deep hatred of everyone and anything within the power corridors of the 5th phase Tanzania government.

The bile spewed there is toxic. It is not my place to judge the good lass; I am simply pointing out that, at some point in time, it must come to an end – and the millions of her followers unhooked.

For a social media blog to remain relevant, it must stick to the subject matter and not personalities. A blog that intends to sell news content must remain firm on content. If it veers away to being a praise singers page, it will get drowned in the flooding when the floodgates must open up with regime change — or such other change that must happen.

It also presents a case that, in Tanzania today, there is still an opportunity for a proper blog that features both bigwig news and ordinary news. Content that is not domiciled in the corridors of power only, but is also cognizant of ordinary Tanzanians’ daily chores.

The idea of glamour and glitter must not take away the daily slog that is the life of the majority.

These blogs can be very useful in changing the lives of ordinary Tanzanians in these extraordinary, changing times. The new law on mass communications may change the face of blogging forever.

But whether that is for better or for worse, that’s a story for another day.

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