Studying interactions on social media is akin to converging focus groups on very pertinent issues within our society. From business promotion to culture display, social media has become a platform for showcasing all things African. It therefore comes as no surprise that social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are becoming a hub for discussing various issues as more people become keen on using the internet. From light-hearted fun in vines, tweets and memes to intense discussions on several Tumblr and WordPress blogs, the African is beginning to “free their mind” as they say. To demonstrate how people use social media to express their opinions, simply consider this tweet by @SorayaSpeaks which addresses racism:
While the comment may seem harsh, it does weigh in on a very important issue: African features have been the butt of racist remarks and using them as insults against one’s own reiterates the poorly informed racist notion that African features are not beautiful. On the flip side, it is ironic to see Western and European social media promote some of these features, like full lips, as especially trendy. To some extent, it is an example of the neo-colonialist mindset which is rooted in the belief that the Caucasian race is superior to the African. These negative perceptions about African features have become so entrenched in some societies to the point where it has become difficult to celebrate the diversity of African culture. It would require our collective efforts as Africans to undo this mindset.
Another example is a slew of memes about members of the Ewe ethnic group, which were not met with much amusement. In one of the memes captioned “Ayigbe smoothie”, an image of a frightened cat in a blender was shown; seemingly poking fun at the Ewe’s stereotyped appetite for cat meat. Another image with the caption, “The drive home after you dump your Ewe girlfriend”, showed a driver on a road bedeviled with ghosts. An attempt at poking fun at Ewe culture which apparently has a heritage in voodoo. While most received these as mere jokes, many people found it not only insulting to Ewe culture, but also regarded it as a manifestation of tribalism and a perpetuation of ethnic stereotypes.
In contrast to the aforementioned, social media has been used to marshal support for several important causes. At the very least one can depend on their Twitter feed to keep up with scores when Ghanaian matches are being played. Social media has also been used as a platform to show public opinion, as is the case with recent discussions on Ghana’s energy crisis and power outages or “dumsor” as it is popularly called. Twitter has not only been used to indicate the severity of public discontent with the crisis, but also to aid initiatives like actress Yvonne Nelson’s #DumsorMustStop campaign which was geared at drawing government attention to the problem.
Several entrepreneurs have taken advantage of public interest in social media to promote their goods and services, marketing everything from Africa-made cosmetic products on accounts like @TwistsnLocs to car maintenance services and dealerships like @purplewheels_. Besides that, many platforms are used to promote and (re)affirm the value of African cultures, including Tumblr pages like Afro Arts, Archaic Wonder, Abstrackafricana and Artblackafrica. Other accounts focus on specific issues and practices like skin bleaching and feature creative images with strong messaging. Educative Instagram pages like @chakabars also post long buried facts about African accomplishments and country-specific current events, while blogs like Barque Of The Nile discuss historical topics like the remarkable architectural skill of ancient Egyptians.
Considering the breadth of opportunities, it is no wonder that certain authorities have found it expedient to communicate with people through social media. For instance, the President of Ghana regularly updates Ghanaians on his activities through his Twitter account. TV networks and various organisations also keep their audiences updated by posting the details of shows, news and events on their social media platforms. Two media agencies with a strong presence on the Ghanaian Twitter scene are Citi FM and YFM; both send out regular minute-by-minute news updates to their followers. It is true that social media has enabled social vices such as pornography and vanity but it is also evident that in the right hands social media is vital to making positive changes and connections in our society.
Germaine Bombande is a 20-something Ghanaian student and non-believer in mediocrity. Stubborn about her values – respect, integrity and equality – she is captivated by the promise of the future and is on a mission to discover and grow.
The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author and in no way reflect those of Circumspecte.