The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

19 July 2014

Ethiopia: Post Responsibly!

Social media has definitely caught on in Ethiopia, considering that Internet penetration is less than two percent in the country.

Interestingly, I came across a figure indicating that almost 90 percent of the Internet traffic in Ethiopia is on social media website, especially Facebook. In fact out of 960,331 Internet users in 2012 in Ethiopia, 902,440 had Facebook accounts. This is quite a staggering number and shows the important place the social media is taking in certain communities. But although this number is high, countries with higher internet penetration are even bigger users of social media. Our next-door neighbor, Kenya, is a great example.

There are a lot of things that come with being active on social media. Some use it to keep in touch with friends and family, others use it as a platform to discuss ideas.

Regardless of how people choose to use it, what they are putting out to the world on these spaces are out there and will be dug out one day or another. I was reminded of this while listening to an Amharic radio station where the presenter was interviewing a young man who had recently published about the history of the town of Harar. This young man also had a blog and he spoke very proudly about the following he has been getting and the importance of using the internet as a platform to share ideas as well as how it has revolutionized the social life of young people, himself included. At this time the interviewer asked him about how this has changed his life, followed by a post she had found on his Facebook stating his name, age, weigh profession with the following note " I am looking for a girlfriend, if you are interested send me a personal message". A long silence followed by him trying to deny he ever wrote that only made it more awkward. Although it was a radio interview, you can almost hear this young man cringe! He clearly was not expecting this post to be something he would be asked about five years after he wrote it.

This example is not quite as bad but it is proof that we all have to be careful about what we post online. Whatever we write, we have to be ready to defend or explain it. This is even more important when the people involved are government officials. Last week, a certain high-ranking Ethiopian diplomat posted an article about the benefits of sleeping naked on his twitter. I'm quite sure that the topic of the article fits in the "what not to post while serving in office" bucket. Again, this example is not one that can bring about a huge popular response. However, we've had an instance where our Minster of Women Children and Youth Affairs tweeted stating that she does not support the anti-homosexual law passed by Uganda. Although she deleted the tweets, they had already been immortalized tweets do not die. To begin with, all tweets will be saved at the Library of Congress as part of "the universal body of human knowledge". Secondly even if one deletes the tweets, people are quick to take a screenshot or picture of the tweet just to make sure they have it on record. In the case of our Minister of Youth, she claimed that her account was hacked and deleted her account.

These past two days many athletes and famous personalities around the world tweeted #freepalestine, a hashtag that has been trending for days. Hours or days after they posted it, many of them retracted the post by deleting it. One the personalities to do so is Dwight Howard, a well renowned basketball player in the US, was "pressured" to delete his tweet. This had question whether one has to choose between being a celebrity and standing-up for what one believes it. In my honest opinion, they should not be mutually exclusive.

There is no way around it, whosoever has a presence on social media will have to be careful what she posts as it can come to hunt her. If you are going to post something that you believe in. do not be ashamed but make sure you are ready to weather the storm that can follow.

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