Social Media, Social Development and WTF Moments

It is Sunday. It is late on Sunday. It is the cusp of ten PM. Rated Next ended today, Tujuane was on in Kenya, some football was played somewhere and mobile data is being a trick on both Orange and MTN.

Then this tweet comes in:

@bazanye Your thoughts on social media as a tool for development in East Africa?

That is what is wrong with Twitter. They let just about anybody in.

For those in the back of the class asking what the problem is, the problem is someone wants to have a discussion on twitter about “social media as a tool for development in East Africa” ON SUNDAY AT TEN PM!

That’s like walking into Legends when people are discussing how much sexier Alex Ferguson is than that frumpy Arsene Wenger and piping up, “By the way, isn’t there going to be a resurgence of communism worldwide in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis better known as the Credit Crunch? Huh? What do you guys think?”

Ferguson has kind eyes but Wenger looks like he gropes strangers on the train. That’s what we think. And the moobs, Fergies are bigger and volume counts.

Now, I could start by explaining how twitter works, because we can no longer assume everybody knows. On twitter you broadcast 140-word statements (epithets, epigrams, profanities, screeds, expressions of megalomania, cries for help, unhindered absurdities etc) to as many people as can bother to sign on to read your crap. Kind of like facebook but with greater narcissicim.

And those are the first of my thoughts on social media as a tool for development: to whit, don’t use social media on a Sunday at ten to discuss development.

Here are some others:

Loathing: I hate the term “Social Media”. It reeks of bombast and hollow pride. It is conceited and self-important. It is a varnished cowpat of a term. It is as shallow as an advertising slogan—those things which pretend the mundane is spectacular in the hopes that it will become so as long as we all believe it.

“Social Media” sounds like it can be a tool for developing parts of continents, but “Twitter” and “Facebook” sound like just what they are: a technological amplification of those slabs of marble on toilet walls where we would scribble our graffiti in private and leave our nonsense there for whoever would end up seeing it. Now, a lot of toilet graffiti is stupid and inane. Some of it is quite funny. Some of it is useful information about where to get drugs or prostitutes. Some of it is even actually intelligent and clever and thought-provoking. But when you see that you wonder why it’s on a toilet wall. You can’t help but think it would serve its purpose better in a more serious forum.

That’s what I think when I see a tweet about serious intarekcho things on twitter. They should lead you somewhere else. Let the link take you to a real newspaper where they can give you actual real information, where they have the volume to carry a substantial amount of data. Not 140 words which will scroll down off the screen in half an hour, pushed down by people talking about skinny Jeans and bad dates.

Besides, that discussion can NOT stay on twitter, NO. That is the second worst thing that can happen to a discussion on an important issue. The worst is that it goes to facebook. Facebook? Whoooooo… Lord. Facebook. Mercy save us.

Zombies: Facebook is where the idea that free speech and open discussion are a great way to gain and share information goes to be murdered dead so it can be zombified and lumber around grossing people out and trying to eat their brains.

Because of facebook I can’t decide what to believe about the official poverty rate statistics on Uganda from the government and World Bank. One bunch of people say they are understated, and that poverty in Uganda  actually soars higher and higher every single day. What happened, they say, is that the Government of Uganda somehow managed to bribe the World Bank into falsifying the results of its studies so that Museveni comes out looking good. Yes, the World Bank, IMF, UN, all dem niggas work for Museveni cos he’s a bawse like that.

On the other hand I have also heard that those figures are overstated, and that there is no (she actually said NO) abject poverty in Uganda. NGOs and Aid organisations just want to justify their budgets so they can keep on buying Land Cruisers.

For Real That’s What They Say: These are the kinds of opinions which will deluge any discussion you try to have on facebook about development stuff. Makeshituppers and pseudointellectuals and showoffs who would rather spew than read thrive and fun amock on FB. And don’t think that introducing actual facts into the discussion will help. Facts are like fairies on facebook. Nobody believes in them. No, FB believes in a set of dogmas that are unasailable and anything that even looks sideways at these is instantly shot down as a lie. Everything is painted in broad monochrome, black and white. Good and Bad. The West is ALWAYS evil. Africa is ALWAYS the good guy. No subtlety, no grey areas, only thorough and uncompromisable moral absolutes. Good or Bad. Ignorance and the most stubborn refusal to even consider that maybe we should look something up on a researcher’s website and confirm.

Soon you realize that development is better made elsewhere, by people who know what they are talking about, or at least want to learn. Let the narrow-minded have their “social media” to keep them out of the way of the real development.

Those are my thoughts. Thank you for listening.