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Let’s Use Social Media Responsibly

By Emma Were Belinda

Holding rallies, visiting voters door to door are some of the old methods that have been used to communicate and convince people during elections. Today, there’s a new entrant, social media as a mode of communication. It has improved communication, turning the world into a global village and creating a new form of impassioned debates across the broader spectrum. Whatever happens in my village will be instantly known worldwide. It’s probably the most amazing/extraordinary platforms of communication ever invented to simplify interaction. One can easily access information on any matter and also interface with the world in the comfort of their home.
In Uganda today, social media has been incorporated by individuals, organizations and political parties, taking advantage of the opportunity it has availed to them to mobilize people to support their causes, and know about them. Although we can’t arguably boast of the numbers on social media, it is still a viable tool to mobilize the people especially the urban dwellers to participate in political processes and democratic projects.
The information, entertainment, is too much, coming in too fast that it will make your head spin but it will keep you informed. The old media is hard hit and one wonders how they will sustain sales in the near future because all stories are breaking on social media. By the time you go to bed, you already know the big stories world over. Such is the Power of social media.
As the momentum builds up for 2016 elections, many politicians have taken care of the social media platforms, opening up Facebook pages, some have made declaration of intentions to stand on YouTube, and many other platforms. This is an indication that the numbers are growing and it’s a platform that one can only ignore at their own risk. This is because very many internet users in Uganda are spending more time on social media sites exchanging news and opinion.  However, the actual edge that a candidate has over the rest is their works and reputation and not mere gymnastics.
Social media has therefore given a voice to the ordinary person to say what they wouldn’t say ordinarily for lack of a relevant platform and this is where abuse comes in. The safety of being alone with a phone or desktop somewhere in the middle of the forest gives one courage to speak/comment, sometimes carelessly about just anything including employers, clients, politics name it and this is dangerous for society.
For example, recently a forged letter was circulated on whatsup platform purportedly written by H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to former Libyan President Muammer Gaddafi in 2010 informing him about his political intent to sideline a certain tribe in western Uganda and many other issues. There was also another group promoting sectarianism on the same platform, such tendencies are against unity, promote hatred and can culminate into physical attacks.
This is of course against the traditional ethos of journalism that prohibits publication of hate speech. Such criminal behaviors are not only a threat to coexistence but also a threat to our development as a country. Such calculated steps to bring down our nation must awaken our spirit of nationalism to shun such tendencies that are not important to our wellbeing. Indeed, all political camps seem to want to out-compete each other in the social media craziness.
Political campaigns are being played out on social media with so much commentary about political aspirants, political offices, some of which is repulsive. The information consumed sometimes is capable of destroying the moral values of a society.
However in spite of all these dangers that come with social media, there is the good to celebrate like the development of e-commerce where people are selling their products online and thus giving the buyer the comfort of having their orders delivered at the homes or offices. This is a new trend in Uganda but its growing bigger and fast spreading. The government and other organizations have also made progress by uploading their activities online, making access to information much easier and faster.
Much as social media has made us more informed and given us a voice and enabled us to move along with development, it’s susceptible to abuse which should be checked. We should practice individual restraints to enjoy such innovations.
Finally, with the build up to elections, tempers are running high, pressure is mounting but as a people we must be careful.  The way we utilize these new forms of communication available to us is critical. Any form of abuse, harassment and intimidation must be avoided. Let us maintain our Integrity as a nation because Uganda is bigger than what is preoccupying us right now. We have all the rights to freely express ourselves but we have no right to create anarchy and despondency which is against the laws of natural justice and our constitution.
The writer is a graduate student of International Relations and Diplomatic Studies at Makerere University