Social Media Uses and Effects: The Case of WhatsApp in Africa

Social Media Uses and Effects: The Case of WhatsApp in Africa

Brian Pindayi (Rusangu University, Zambia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1859-4.ch003
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This chapter aims at analysing the effects of social media on African society by focusing on WhatsApp usage. The chapter will; one, show how usage of WhatsApp is affecting interpersonal relationships in Africa. Two, evaluate the common uses of WhatsApp in Africa. Three, scrutinise the reasons people in Africa prefer using WhatsApp. Four, add theoretical perspectives on how social media is impacting on the communication landscape of the region. The chapter will also introduce two concepts, one; medium veracity wherein different media have varying levels of trust or credibility and two; the social media domino effect, wherein social media platforms are mutually dependent and have a symbiotic relationship. By examining why people are using WhatsApp, this chapter seeks to add to the empirical conversation on futility and the transformative potential of social media.
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“We become what we behold … we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us” (McLuhan, 1964). New media technologies have transformed media ecosystems in the sense that conventional media professionals no longer have a monopoly on the generation of news content, as people now generate and share their own content. User-generated content creates numerous possibilities which affect how people relate towards one another and construct meaning or everyday reality (Gauntlett, 2011). As shown by the popularity of web 2.0, new communication technologies have affected the communication landscape in numerous ways ranging from political effects to economic and social effects. For example, the Arab Spring of 2011 showed how new communication technologies can provide a platform for political mobilisation (Acemoglu, 2015). In South Africa, the #Rhodes must fall and #Fees must fall movements of 2015 were successful in part because of the communicative platforms afforded by new communication technologies such as WhatsApp (Luescher, 2016). In Kenya, the #StopPoliceBrutality movement of 2016 saw many people participate in protests because of the information that was shared through social media platforms (Buchanan, 2016).These effects of new communication technologies have led some researchers (Newman, 2012) to talk of the emergence of a fifth estate as the public appears more empowered through user-generated content to gather and share content without relying on the fourth estate or conventional media houses. Likewise, the impact of new communication technologies has led some researchers to suggest that an alternative public sphere and in some instances a counter public sphere is constituted by the internet and by inference social media, as users deliberate on a less restricted platform and raise divergent views or anti-establishment sentiments (Aslama, 2009).

Social media have been growing in popularity in Africa at an exponential rate (Balancing-Act, 2014). It is estimated that around 9% of the population in Africa is using social media (Park, 2016). Also, 9% is a substantial number when one considers the uneven technological distribution on the continent and the big divide between urban and rural Africa.

(Kalyango, 2013) notes that social media have mobilized people in both political and social ways in East and West Africa. As a way of exploring the question of the effects of social media in Africa, this chapter focuses on WhatsApp and examines how the messaging platform is affecting interpersonal relationships, political movements, civil society, citizenship journalism andcultural, educational and technological issues etc..

As a communicative space, WhatsApp is a social media platform that is shaping or affecting the lives of African citizens. The word development in the broadest possible sense means “a multi-dimensional phenomenon which encompasses economic, political, social and cultural aspects,” this chapter seeks to investigate how WhatsApp is affecting development in Africa. Specifically, this chapter intends to:

  • Highlight the major strengths and weaknesses of WhatsApp with regards to its societal, economic, cultural and political impact.

  • Discuss the Uses and Effects of WhatsApp in Southern Africa.

  • Analyse how communication is impacting development in Africa.

  • Discuss theoretical developments and possibilities that are created by Social media through WhatsApp.

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