Unsocial Media

It is nerve-wracking to see that Ethiopia is getting more and more media spots by international broadcasters. Such is the nature of the news, the sorts of things of interest to such media outlets are extreme economic regression or political upheavals. Sensationalism is a destructive force with a bottomless pit.

That sensationalism hits its peak with Facebook, which lately has been under heavy scrutiny for giving up the personal data of its users to a consulting firm that later would use them to influence the messaging of political campaigns. This is a scary time in the world, where personal interests such as a favourite football team or dessert are harvested to affect people’s voting habits.

Such information is used to target us, either to forward a political agenda or sell products. It is used to make us feel that our fears are taking place, whether it be a less secure future for our children, or rising unemployment, by candidates that have no scrupules over the dangers of such methods of campaigning.

It can be overwhelming to learn to navigate through this clutter. It seems like we are in the midst of successive hysteria; our short attention span leading us to forget one horrendous act when presented with another. Yet many are not privileged with changing the channel or scrolling by, not when one is living in the country that this is happening in.

A few months before the ongoing civil unrest in Syria, the Al-Assad regime used to be praised for its relatively liberal leanings. Today, Syria celebrates over half a decade of war. Anyone who has not lived under a rock knows the disintegration of the economy there, and the constant death and destruction of people and cities.

The social media is a revolutionary tool, but we are still short of means of responsibly navigating it. Many benefit from the fall of a government, or a system of it. To garner power or to forward a cause and ideology, they use people’s fear and prejudice as a weapon. In the middle, many lose their lives.

Meanwhile, the world does nothing but report, even after swearing that it would not sit ideally by as innocent people are killed. Yet here we are.

Addressing political unrest in countries wracked by it should come from within. It is sad many assumed Rex Tillerson’s, former state secretary of the United States, visit to Ethiopia was a function of the role the country wanted to play in addressing the political situation here. The truth is sobering though as witness his speeches. It is unlikely to have happened had the Chinese not become one of Africa’s biggest creditors and investors. Once again, Africa is the pawn, not the major player.

Ethiopia clearly has a past that has not been dealt with. There are remnants of our history that linger, as withers hate speech on Facebook posts. It has been fueling tensions amongst us.

The truth is not as linear as we wish it to be. It is effortless to blame something tangible instead of the complex economic and political undercurrents that haunt us. We should not be the sorts of people that see history and politics through the narrow lenses of lingo-cultural identity.

Rhetoric based on hate and fear can quickly trigger passion as well as tension. Many countries have chosen to walk down that road, often to unconscionable consequences. We cannot afford to take that path; we do not have that luxury. We should not let our emotions or the past dictate who we are today, or who we would like to become tomorrow.

The past cannot be silenced, as it will demand to be dealt with. That will determine what we will leave tomorrow: a divided nation or an Ethiopia that heals its wounds and moves on. It is a decision, citizens, opposition parties, civil societies, and, mostly, the government, have to carefully contemplate when speaking, listening or posting.

By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile (hannahaile212@gmail.com) is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Centre where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Apr 01,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 936]



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