Saturday, November 26, 2016

‘Social media can be used for good’

Participants in a day's forum have expressed the belief that social media can be used positively to promote development and national security.

According to them, social media could be a platform to provide security tip-offs for early-warning alerts to combat crime.

The participants were contributing to the topic: "Social media and peace-building; social media and traditional media", at a public forum on free and responsible use of social media in Accra.

The forum

It was organised by the National Media Commission (NMC) and sought to bring together the participants to brainstorm on finding a framework for setting up policies and guidelines for social media to be responsible, while safeguarding freedom of expression in the country.

Leading the discussion, the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Mr Sulemana Braimah, said even though social media could be used as a platform to foment trouble, there was the need to look at it from the positive side.

Positive side of social media

"If we look at the positive side of social media, how our national security and officers can rely on social media for tip-offs for early warning alerts, that can be good.

"The solution to hate speech is not shutting down social media; it is about countering whatever the social media put out there," he said.

For his part, a journalist with Citi FM, a local radio station, Mr Bernard Avle, said social media would only be useful if society redefined the rules of what was news, while the traditional media constantly insisted on verifying information from social media before publishing it.

He said social media had "changed the way we work, both for good and bad", explaining that because of the competition of sources, social media had put pressure on traditional media practioners.

Contributing to the topic, a blogger with Blogging Ghana, Ms Kinna Kimani, said social media fed on what the traditional media reported because "we are not in possession of the facts". 

Kenya's example

Presenting a study conducted by Penplusbytes on Kenya's 2013 presidential election, the Executive Director of Penplusbytes, Mr Kwami Ahiabenu II, said the electoral body of that country relied a lot on social media to conduct a highly successful election.

"The electoral management body, which includes the Electoral Commissioner, the police and the security services, were active on social media. They invested heavily on social media," he said, and asked whether the same could be said about Ghana's Electoral Commissioner and the security agencies.

He said even though the Kenyan election was successful, social media churned out hateful and peaceful messages.

"So we are not suggesting that during the elections everybody was behaving well, but at the end of the day, peaceful messages won," he said.

Mr Ahiabenu noted that the Kenyans realised that social media could pose a serious threat to the electoral process and, therefore, invested heavily in social media.

Active monitoring of social media

"Again, one of the key findings that came out from our research was that there was active social media monitoring and when people were putting up certain behaviour that was not within the confines of the law, the security agencies were able to apprehend and act on it.

"Back in Ghana, do we have that capacity to ensure that the electoral management body and the security agencies can have alerts and police such?" he queried.

Wrapping up the discussion, the Executive Secretary of the NMC, Mr George Sarpong, said the EC could gain more if it engaged on social media.

He said while there could be certain concerns about the potential of social media to cause mischief, "it represents a greater platform for utility for change and progress than the fears that we have had".

Fundamental freedoms

In a statement, the UNDP Country Director, Mr Dominic Sam, said the freedom to generate and share information, download and share information through electronic networks, communicate within and across national boundaries were fundamental freedoms which should be protected.

"The responsible exercise of these fundamental freedoms must be protected. The use of such mediums as social media to propagate false information, which if left unfettered can generate tension during an election period, is not a protected right," he said.

The Chairman of the NMC, Nana Kwesi Gyan-Appenteng, welcoming the participants, expressed concern that in recent times, "not a single week passes without a number of fake and malicious social media content being circulated".

He described it as a major worry, explaining that the purpose of the forum was to gather information and recommendations from the participants into a communique.

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