The President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, has advised the federal government to utilize social media sensitively as a tool for development, good governance and social change, rather than politicizing it.
Mr. Adesina gave the advice while delivering his keynote address at the 21st NECCI PR roundtable themed ‘Social Media, National Security and Social Change: Bridging the Gap for Development in Africa,’ which held on Thursday in Lagos State.
In reaction to the general attitude of Federal Government to social media especially the ban of Twitter, Mr. Adesina, said social media and network society cannot be ignored by governments.
He said, “Given the power and pervasive influence of social media, every level of government must recognize the power of homegrown, or global social media platforms as strategic instruments for direct communication with the public they serve, in a way that is more consistent with the day-to-day realities of citizens.
“The rise of the ‘network society,’ therefore, offers those in power a unique opportunity to engage in real-time meaningful dialogues with constituents, involve them in policymaking, and address genuine grievances, long before they become toxic.
“When I look at the rapid uptake of social media by millions of mobile phone users in Nigeria, I cannot see why communication should not be at the heart of development policies and good governance. It is an excellent platform for policymakers and public officials to engage with the citizenry.”
Mr. Adesina said before social media, “bureaucracy and the hierarchical nature of societies made it easy for leaders to become far removed from those they were called to serve.
“That is no longer the case with social media. Today, leaders have no choice. They must engage. Citizens now have social platforms to speak, vent and engage in the public sphere. Leaders, who are far from their people, no longer have a place to hide. The people are at their gates, daily, with inquiries, views, opinions, vitriol and sometimes sarcasm.”
The AFDB president said for public officials to engage citizens on social media, information and communication must be “fact-based, devoid of propaganda, short and straight to the point, informational, educational, and inspiring.
“The effective use of social media platforms requires clear distinctions between political advertising and public service information and the temptation to blur the lines for political gain.
“Communication for development and good governance requires innovation, creativity, and an astute understanding of the felt needs and grievances of citizens. Development and policy communication via social media also requires restraint and proactive responses, in order to avoid a firefighting approach.”
He added that in the social media era, governments must be proactive and responsible users of the social media to effectively fight for citizens of those they are called to serve.
“As such, social media should be utilised sensitively by governments and not politicized,” he said.
Mr. Adesina said the social media, depending on who how and for what purpose it is being used, has tremendous power for good or for bad.
“From a national security perspective, the biggest promise of social media lies in the technological capabilities that could facilitate direct, constructive, creative, and mass political involvement.
“Technology is neutral. It is the use that it is put that defines acceptable and unacceptable boundaries. Ultimately the vital question of who owns controls and spreads information will arise. Today, the owners of social media platforms wield unprecedented power.
“Concerns about social platforms stem from the powers of monopoly and the ability of
the controllers of platforms to influence societies, or creators of content to use them to drive wedges in societies, cultures, and religion or create misinformation or give oxygen to fake news.
“Just as social media has clear benefits for development and democracy it is also a vital tool for good governance and gives millions of people a voice.
“Twitter has emerged as an important podium for us to disseminate information rapidly to a large global audience.
“For individuals, businesses, and governments that depend on these platforms, vulnerability assessments and cyber security are necessary in order to protect data, privacy and information, for individuals, businesses and governments,” he said.
He added that “despite the many benefits of social media, it is very common for people to abuse it because they can easily hide their identities.
“If rules are not well established, and norms of conduct well enforced, misuse of social media could cause discord, unravel societies due to susceptibility to foreign influence, social engineering and cyber-attacks.”