Editor's Comment

The power of social media

THE promotion of traffic officer Charity Nanyangwe by the Zambia Police Service (ZPS) command has demonstrated the positive power of social media.Ms Nanyangwe’s dedication to duty was the peak of social media – Facebook, WhatsApp and Youtube – on Wednesday after she braved a sudden heavy downpour in Lusaka to control traffic.
Social media, in essence, measures the mood and feelings of the general public. On this day, the mood was overwhelmingly that of pleasant surprise. Most of those that reacted to the posting of the picture of constable Nanyangwe controlling traffic in the rains were full of praise.
The penetration of digital technology in terms of social media is rapidly and quickly creating positive changes in society in a way never seen before.
The social media platforms are a powerful tool of instant and spontaneous communication.
As such, rulers and decision-makers, including all manner of authorities and business owners, are paying serious attention to social media more than ever before.
Ms Nanyangwe’s incident, which went viral on social media, caught the immediate attention of police authorities – thanks to the powerful tools of social media.
Ms Nanyangwe’s instant promotion is just one example of the positive impact of social media.
Facebook and WhatsApp are generally regarded as distractors and channels for mudslinging, character assassination and blatant spread of falsehoods.
While it is true that there are some people who do indeed use these platforms for such negative (mis) information, it is evident, too, that social media has its huge positives.
Society should focus and build on these positives to make the most of this technology. Digital news is a new frontier which will remain in our lives and social media is poised to transform the way of life for generations to come.
Thanks to social media, Ms Nanyangwe was promoted from corporal to sergeant but the same platform could be used to trigger demotions or sackings of public or even private sector workers caught on camera for wrong reasons.
Unfortunately, it seems that it is the negative news that often gets the attention of social media reporters. As it were, many motorists must have driven past Ms Nanyangwe without appreciating the extra mile she was taking to help them out of the traffic jam.
She could have chosen to seek shelter elsewhere, especially that she neither had an umbrella nor a raincoat. Few, if any, would have faulted her for doing that, but as she says, “I had to do my duty”.
There are other testimonies of how citizens have used social media for good reason and have been rewarded with good outcomes.
Some criminals have been arrested by the police following tip-offs by people using social media. Similarly, some perpetrators of gender-based violence have been reported by whistleblowers.
Families, friends, professionals and former class-mates at primary, secondary, college and universities are beating distance to unite and re-unite on social media, which is one of the most convenient and cheapest means of communication.
Political and religious groups are using social media for interaction. Businesses, too, have taken advantage of social media to promote their products, send quotations and invoices.
Professionals share social and expert ideas and this helps expedite decision-making and overcome challenges.
Some small-scale farmers, for instance, have Facebook and WhatsApp groups through which they exchange ideas on how to manage their investments. The outcome for many has been tremendous progress.
It is therefore mind-boggling that some people take to social media for unproductive postings such as blackmailing, pornography or indeed insults. Social media has also been used for hate speech by political and religious rivals.
There are also some people who abuse the social media with unjustified grievances to purvey innuendos and falsehoods against individuals or groups of people they do not like.
Government has not been spared by falsehoods intended to taint it.
In some countries, such abuse of the media has triggered enactment of laws to protect the innocent. In Kenya, for instance, a law was passed earlier this week to outlaw such abuse of people on social media.
Similarly, last month, Tanzania unveiled new online content rules to curb abuse of the social media.
The concern in these countries and indeed in Zambia, too, is that the negative uses of social media overshadow the many goods that it is used for.
It is time to reverse the positions. With incidents like those of Ms Nanyangwe, it can be done.

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