The growing use of Facebook Mobile has many concerned in this city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Now that young people have the social network literally at their fingertips, cybercafés are reporting a considerable drop in clients and teachers are complaining that students use the cell phone app to cheat. But perhaps most worrisome of all for a country in political turmoil, Facebook's ubiquity is helping spread false news.
"Because Facebook is accessible to everyone through mobile phones, people post unverified information and it wreaks havoc in these times of war," says Mathieu Katsuva. The young journalist for radio station Ngoma FM therefore encourages his peers to be more responsible and to verify each piece of news before sharing it on the social network.
At a recent panel discussion about the internet's impact on youth, Serge Mapendano, president of the Beni youth parliament, also made a plea for greater awareness among Facebook users. Mapendano believes that some young people commit abuses by posting provocative, unfounded remarks. This is seen as being especially risky during the present conflict between the Congolese national army and the M23 rebels.
Sharing too much
Teachers, too, are critical of how some students are exploiting the technology. Facebook can facilitate cheating, suggests a number of testimonies. Jean Baptiste Ndavaro, who teaches social sciences at Beni's Higher Institute for Rural Development (ISDR), claims he has caught many students using Facebook Mobile to share answers in the middle of an examination.
According to Ndavaro, such behaviour sometimes contributes to falling grades, overall. "Many students have stopped studying hard because they know that on the day of the exam, they only need to connect to Facebook and request the answers from their classmates, who are also connected," he says. The teacher is also concerned about the current lack of school regulations banning the use of mobile phones during examinations.
Death of the cybercafé?
Meanwhile, this trend in technology is impacting the owners of cybercafés. Since acquiring Facebook-ready mobile phones, a large portion of their young clients has stopped visiting.
"We used to have young customers coming in groups to connect to Facebook," says the manager of New Digital Net, who goes by the name of JVC. "Now, we hardly see them, and when we bump into them and ask why they don't come anymore, they say that they bought mobile phones with Facebook."
Likes from vendors
One group, however, who is profiting from the Facebook fanaticism are cell phone vendors. At the Toratina market for second-hand phones in Beni's Matongé quarter, retailers have been noticing how young customers are more interested in Blackberry, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Techno because these brands come with a Facebook app already installed. Plus, they have WiFi connection capacity.
Sec and Mukelenge, two retailers at Toratina, claim to sell more than a dozen such phones every day to a young clientele. Another vendor named Jérémie Jeteme concurs. "They place orders before I even receive stock," he says.