In the recent years, we have seen a number of populist political positions coming to the mainstream in various countries around the world, with the election of leaders such as President Trump and in addition to the strong showing of previously extreme political positions in various parts of the world.
This drift has coincided with dramatic changes in the media environment that have extended the power of political communications directly to candidates and parties themselves as social media have competed with, and in some cases surpassed, traditional media as a source of political news.
In some similar dimensions, I think social media is being used to shape our political discourse for the better as an arena where views and beliefs are expressed generously and listened to eagerly, where we allow our prejudices to be challenged, where we welcome opposing opinions, where we learn from those who see the world differently from the way we see it politically, Socially and Economically.
That aside, let me get to the real reason for writing down this brief well thought article that I am writing out of good will just to make sure that our country is seen as one of the greatest country with well behaved leaders. I am one, but the voice of many other silent Ugandans who cannot write or even express their views on many of the issues that happen in this country.
I have listened to fellow Ugandans, the old, Youth and many other elites who want change like me; I have listened to change agents who are blinded by their love for some opposition cult leaders or some who just think that the country is not what they think it should be. I have also listened to the opposition leaders and those that they call their senior strategists. And they all make sense in their own way.
In Uganda, several politicians especially in the opposition have mastered the art of intrigue and propaganda. Propaganda is nothing new here; it has appeared in pamphlets, books, and newspapers practically since the invention of the printing press.
But social media seem particularly prone to spreading disinformation. That’s because social media engages viewers in a way that some people call “surge,” this is a digital-design strategy by video games. It focuses on keeping the user moving from one element to the next, repetitively, in search of pleasure from the act of consuming media rather than from engaging with its content and this defines Uganda’s social media followers and those we call social media influencers who just follow topics not because they know much about them but because they are paid something to trend some content.
Most people are not on twitter and that everyone knows, you may find that 60 percent of the readers reading this article don’t have twitter. Huge swathe of the population are blessedly detached from it because of the very many reasons that they have. But many of our politicians and journalists who, despite everything, still wield great power almost uniformly are on twitter and use it for purposes well known to them.
It is appealing to place on twitter much of the fault for our polarized politics, and it would certainly be immature to view it as somehow neutral, like a parish notice board. For some time, I have observed very many opposition leaders using their Face book pages, Twitter and Instagram to incite violence, malice and also spread fake news just because they are sure they can go away with it without being put in books for the crimes they keep committing every day. Some of the leaders use their Face book pages to do live addresses where they address people and incite them because they can nit use television that is monitored by the Uganda Communication Commission, Yes, you can get Retweets, Likes and shares but then all the information you put out to the Ugandans may not be good for their consumption because most of it is half baked, full of lies, hatred or even mere propaganda.
I would wish to cite some of these opposition leaders who have made it a habit to tell lies because they want their social media pages to have a lot of engagements, likes, Views and shares and now that I have learnt that YouTube pays money to those with much engagements I understand why people are always doing Live YouTube and Face book sessions.
Just yesterday, I saw some leader ordering and kindly begging humble peaceful Boda boda riders to get to the streets and demonstrate, same person once organized a handful of idlers mixed with some confused senior journalists in the country to demonstrate because of the social media tax and later in the evening it was well observed that those in the demonstration were the anchors of the news that was aired about the demonstration showing how desperate some people want to appear online for their own gains.
Misusing social media aside, the issue of fake news has also been an agenda in the opposition politics, Fake news is generated by outlets that masquerade as actual media sites but spread falsehoods to deceive the public for purposes of inciting them and that has happened during this COVID19 period than never before. When these activities move from erratic and chaotic to organized and systematic efforts, they become disinformation campaigns with the potential to disrupt campaigns and governance in entire country and I request that it should be one of the main issues that the ministry of information and National Guidance should deal with.
Sometimes, fake news stories are amplified and disseminated quickly through false accounts and several automated and parody sites and accounts on Face book and Twitter. These fake accounts and parodies mislead, exploit, and manipulate social media discourse with rumors, spam, misinformation, smear, or even just noise so the concerned agencies should please help sort this so we can again realize the importance of social media.
Lastly, it is time for us first to recognize and then to resist the calculated manipulation of our psychological weaknesses, and assert afresh one of our greatest freedoms: the freedom to change our minds and avoid the leaders who spend their time on social media to get likes, Retweets and shares for their own gains.
Uganda Media Centre/Ministry of ICT.