On 27th May 2016, I came across a headline in the Daily Graphic that said “We may block social media on election day-IGP. This headline struck my curiosity so I went further to read the full story.
“The Ghana Police Service has said it is considering shutting down social media services in the country on November 7, the day of the general election to avoid violence. According to the Inspector General of Police, Mr. John Kudalor, the abuse of social media platforms by both political parties and ordinary Ghanaians had often created unnecessary tension in the country. The publication goes on further to say that, Mr. Kudalor indicated that given the strain that preparations towards the elections was putting on the country’s security agencies, it would be unwise to ignore the potential of social media as a critical point for violence. ‘At one stage I said that if it becomes critical on the eve and also on the Election Day, we shall block all social media as other countries have done. We’re thinking about it’ the IGP said.
I remember the British High Commissioner to Ghana, Mr. Jon Benjamin at this year’s Blogging Ghana awards expressing the hope that, the internet will not be shut down in Ghana as it was done in other countries but rather Ghanaians will use social media in discussing issues and not just use it to hurl abuse at each other on very personal basis during election campaign. He even went further to state how crucial social media will be on election day because it will offer people the opportunity to report whatever transpires at the various polling stations.
I have no expertise in matters of security so I cannot debunk the possibility of the abuse of social media causing violence in this country but the IGP saying they are considering blocking social media on the eve and also on election day if it becomes critical sounds ambiguous to me.
I later realized that the Ghana Police service are not a fan of social media because when I checked the official Twitter account of the Police public affairs directorate, their last tweet was on 18th March 2011.
The flagbearers of the two major political parties have verified Twitter accounts which they use to update their followers on any information concerning them.
Curious as I am, I searched for African countries that shut down social media (Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp) on their election day and realized it was Uganda and Congo. I found something interesting about these two countries . The Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda for almost three decades. The Congolese President Denis Sassou has ruled Congo for the past 19 years. I don’t remember any Ghanaian President who stayed in power beyond 19years. According to the 2016 World Press Freedom Index(RSF), Ghana was ranked 26th , above Uganda( ranked 102) out of 180 countries. Congo didn’t even make it to the rankings. According to the 2015 Democracy index, Ghana ranked 53rd as against Uganda who ranked 96th and Congo who ranked 157th out of 167 countries ( I stand to be corrected). From these statistics, I think it would be unfair for the IGP to consider blocking social media on election day as done in other countries because when it comes to some essential tenets of democracy, Ghana stands tall compared to these countries that blocked social media on election day.
I found it difficult understanding what the IGP meant by considering blocking social media on Election Day because social media goes beyond Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. There’s YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat etc which I can’t fathom how they could contribute to violence in this country. As at the first quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.65 billion monthly subscribers and Twitter had 310 million users. As at February 2016, WhatsApp had more than 1 billion monthly active users worldwide. This goes a long way to show how social media has become part and parcel of our lives.
Incase social media is closed down on election day, what happens to multinational companies that use social media platforms such as Skype to communicate with their clients or branches abroad? Is the IGP trying to say that because of elections businesses that rely on social media should come to a halt?
In as much as social media is portrayed as a critical point of violence, there are some positive strides that social media has achieved. Twitter over the years introduced Twitter Polls which provides the platform for opinions of people to be sought on anything. Facebook also followed suit. This initiative is an advancement on the manual distribution of questionnaires to people in order to get their opinions on certain topics.
When Nepal experienced its worst earthquake in 80 years with a preliminary magnitude of 7.8 that killed more than 2,500 people and destroyed ancient sites, Facebook activated a special feature to keep people informed of the security of their friends and family in the affected area. Facebook safety check asked users at the site if they are safe, and then notifies their connections of their status. It also asked other users to indicate when people they know are safe. This shows how social media is being structured to meet our human needs. Some tech experts have even predicted Social Media as the future as far as innovation is concerned.”When news breaks in the future, it will be covered by a multitude of eyewitnesses streaming live video, enabling the viewer to virtually experience the event in real time. For better or worse, the world will feel like it’s around the corner.” Says Cory Bergman, BreakingNews Co-Founder.
Whether the Police service likes it or not social media has come to stay and it’s gradually taking over conventional media in Ghana.
Most media houses engage their viewers or listeners through their WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter platforms. Most advertisements are also done on social media. I’ve seen some radio stations airing their program live on Pinterest and attracting more views.
Facebook recently rolled out a live video feature whereby people can give live video feed on any event just like how it’s done on TV. I’ve seen a couple of media houses utilize this feature.
The possible ways to go about handling this issue is for the Police service to first embrace social media and think of ways of maximizing the innovative features that come with it to ensure peaceful elections.
Secondly, Individuals who make comments on radio that incite violence should be banned. Skewed journalism shouldn’t be tolerated. In addition to this, the IGP and the president should kindly device ways by which the hands of the unemployed youth can be put to good use because as the Bible says “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. Their youthful exuberance can be exploited to satisfy the parochial needs of some unscrupulous politicians.
Finally, they should also try and fish out the various social media pages that are noted for purveying false information and appeal to the social media owners to delete their profiles. If a sex tape of a Minister’s son can be miraculously blocked from circulating on social media, I believe wiping out these accounts won’t be a problem.
When all these is done, I believe Ghana will once again witness a peaceful election.