The Noise

I have been watching social media lately, and like many others I have found it hard to miss videos of commentators based overseas. Through hours of live footage, these highly opinionated diaspora with unlimited access to the internet tell us how to feel and think about the current political situation.

In the wake of returnees that have gained considerable influence, even among the ruling party, others it seems have taken such a form of activism as a call to forward their political agenda.

These broadcasts have relatively bad production values, often filmed in cars or residences on phone cameras. The talks revolve around political figures and calls are taken from listeners while on air.

Discussions are held between commentators that are disconnected from the narrative on the ground and reach conclusions that lack foresight. Sometimes, their speeches are highly sectarian, which is toxic in a time of political delicacy.

They drop English words here and there to sound worldly and wear scarves adorned with the Ethiopian flag to show that they are grounded to their roots.

Their rhetoric is dangerous and distorts historical facts. They take criticism as recognition that what they do is correct. They do not value official facts, yet they disseminate uncorroborated claims as truth. They are shocking to the sensibilities of viewers and do not help move the national discourse forward.

These videos are streamed live and later shared, commented on and liked. Their impact cannot be disregarded as social media is a strong amplifier of controversial subjects.

It is divisive rhetoric that is depleting the social cohesion and leading to a crowd mentality. This is a dangerous trend that needs to be stopped in its tracks. Discussions should not merely be criticisms, and the only criteria for commentators to appear on a show should not be a willingness to denounce former political figures. And popular opinions should not be trending as truth.

Despite the better access to the internet we seem to be enjoying, we are in an information void – truth crowded out by misinformation. Events are being misinterpreted continuously and misunderstood, and everyone seems to have a head for politics. The noise is drowning the moderate, the foresighted and the analytical. Much like the populists around the world, it is those that have no qualms feeding on our fears who are winning the day.

Even the founders of the most popular social media sites now believe that the platforms have become a breeding ground for divisive rhetoric. They admit that they are having a hard time containing the situation.

The part the government can play through regulations is complicated. Many can agree that there should be moderation but where and when is highly subjective, and censorship can be a slippery slope that leads to suppression.

It is us who should protect one another from the dominance of this rhetoric and push for a matured form of dialogue. There is no such thing as utter impartiality, but our taste should reward those that are willing to question the facts they think they know.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine confronted a radio host who had aired a controversial topic. In the end, even though the subject was one rarely publicly addressed, the host took the easy road of reductionism, failing to represent the other side of the story.

Asked how she curated the program, she declared without hesitation, “I did it perfectly.”

There is always room for improvement, and any practitioner of a profession who wholeheartedly says they performed perfectly is living in a state of denial.

If commentators have a political agenda, they should make it clear right away and not leave us speculating. And it should be incumbent upon media outlets to responsibly police opinions that do not add value to the political discourse.

But a great deal of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of viewers. We ought to check multiple sources before we take anything for granted. Modesty is an underrated character trait. We can benefit individually and as a society by stating that we do not know more than we know.

By Hanna Haile (
Hanna is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Aug 25,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 956]



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