By April 26, 2019

Africa’s Media Space Is Going Digital – But Will Social Media Remain The Unruly Child?

By April 26, 2019

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Gone are the days when tuning into the local news television channel or flipping through the morning paper were the only ways to catch up with world news events. Today, so many people across the world own smartphones which means news is now reaching audiences instantly through mobile apps, email, and social media, amongst other means.

I remember while growing up we used to have a black and white great wall TV that used to be switched on only during news time; that was mostly around 7 pm and 9 pm. Watching time was limited because then the TVs were connected to a rechargeable battery that and the battery had to be preserved so that it could serve for longer.

Going back to those days, a single family on a block could be the only ones who owned a television, leave alone a coloured TV. Neighbours, friends, and entire families converged to watch the news, and no kid was allowed to even breathe out loud because once a news item has been aired, it could not be repeated, which was absolute silence was necessary.

The cathode ray tube TVs were literally a portal to ‘dreamscape,’ a status symbol and for the lucky few, a trusted late-night companion. It most importantly served as an emotional glue for the family. It is through tiny windows that most of us got to watch quite a horde of content including timeless TV programs like Tarzan, Titanic, Texas Rangers, just to mention but a few.

Fast forward a decade later, you can access all the content from your car, phone, public screens. A TV is no longer a box in the living room. The rise of on-demand and streaming services and the birth of smartphones and laptops has apparently triggered the demise of cosy viewing sessions. Many people now binge-watch solo on tablets and laptops.

Reportedly, two million smartphones are sold every day across the world. An annual report released by global digital agencies; we Are Social and Hootsuite, reveals that Africa has seen the fastest growth rates in internet penetration, with the number of internet users across the continent increasing by more than 20 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. The number of internet users in most African countries has more than doubled over the past year too.

More than 200 million people got their first mobile device in 2017, and two-thirds of the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants (5.135 billion) now have a mobile phone. As digitisation advances, more and more people continue to use their smartphones to receive content now more than ever before.

The advent of digital media has totally revolutionized the media landscape. News dissemination now moves at lightning speed. This is courtesy of live tweeting, blogging, and citizen journalism, all of which were unknown just a few years ago.  

The advent of fibre-optics have transformed the telecommunications industry, the internet is getting cheaper by the day, as well as faster and better. It has made it possible for people and even those in remote parts of the world to access content.

Digital media is still gaining traction in Africa. It is growing exponentially but it has not yet reached its peak. As much as digital media is part and parcel of many people’s lives, it is yet to earn trust in regards to news dissemination. The media in Africa is said to be passing through an awkward digital adolescence with falling revenues, shrinking newsrooms, and overworked journalists.

And unlike the past where people could sit down for hours and take in everything aired, these days people can filter what they want to see, and all these are thanks to technological advancement. A click or two is enough to read a local paper, no more waiting for the morning to go to the newsstand to get a paper.

Another platform where news is disseminated today is through emails. I open my emails daily and find a lot of news feed. The new media has totally transformed how news is disseminated.

Opportunities brought about by digital media are faster news delivery, better access to info and sources, more interaction with readers.



Challenges

While digitisation makes gathering and dissemination easier, it does not necessarily foster better journalism. And like they say, everything has two sides: the good and the bad. With digitisation, plagiarism, lack of verification, and other unethical practices have increased at an alarming rate.

Even in developed countries, digital media has led to more cases of copyright violation, quoting without attribution, and cases of plagiarism have been on a sharp rise.

The new media requires swiftness because it is very competitive. More often than not, the race to deliver overshadows the need for accuracy and quality content and with the speed, time, and pressure comes mistakes; quality is compromised. Most digital media companies are driven by the urge to be the first to break a story as opposed to waiting to confirm the information and give more credible news.

Most media outlets have become increasingly digitalised in recent years. This move has had a detrimental impact on the traditional business models of commercial journalism. This is because audiences have moved online and advertising markets have consequently collapsed.

Many global and local newspapers, such as New York Times, The Guardian, Wallstreet Journal The East African and Daily Nation, The Standard have created online sites to retain their clients, as well as remain competitive.

In this digital era, newspapers no longer break news, as websites are always quick to report on breaking news even before the cable news channels. Digital journalism allows for reports to start out vague and generalized, and progress to a better story.

Take this year’s terrorist attacks at 14 Riverside in Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya, for instance; the ugly development was making rounds on social media, especially Twitter, way before mainstream media got its first visuals of the incident. As a matter of fact, at some point, mainstream media was relying on social media for updates on the situation on ground.

In the general elections that took place in Nigeria in February this year, while TV stations and radio channels were painting pictures of a free and fair nationwide exercise, some would say it was on social media platforms that real picture of the situation on the ground (violence, cases of ballot box snatching, underage voting, and other forms of electoral malpractice) was being painted.

Due to the nature of the newspaper distribution channel where information takes a day or two to reach the audience, they are losing out as ad revenue is massively shifting to the Internet. People are now able to find the news they want, when they want it, and at the comfort of their homes. Owing to this and a number of other factors, many people have viewed digital journalism as the death of journalism.

With the transition to digital media, many journalists have lost their jobs as a lot of tasks have been made easier with the new technology. Some highly specialized positions in the publishing industry have become obsolete. The growth in digital journalism and the near collapse of the economy has also led to downsizing for those in the industry.

The beginning of citizen journalism where anyone can report from anywhere at any time using their smartphones has been a major contributor to the shrinking of newsrooms. Amateurs can do on-the-spot reporting and share the video or audio with newsrooms.

We know that transformations brought about by revolutions often take decades, and this will probably be true for the news revolution as well. Interestingly, today’s audience, and not the publishers, control what they see, hear or share.

Social Media

It is almost an offence to talk about digital media without mentioning social media because they almost go hand-in-hand. Today, digital content is shared through social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Telegram, amongst others, all in different forms. Social media live streaming has become a common phenomenon for disseminating news in the digital age.

The coming into being of social media has brought about new characteristics like interactive dialogue and social interactions. Media practitioners can now have real conversations with their audience.

Online debates, researchers, polls can now easily be conducted online by a media organisation, thanks to social media. It has brought about the real meaning of freedom of speech.

Twitter comes in handy, especially when finding quotes and contacting people one might never see in person. Online interviews have become increasingly common, some of which are conducted through social media.

It is also a good way to get breaking stories as soon as they happen. Stories shared through social media often get a lot of instant views because a lo of people are online. Once they refresh their feed, they get to see the latest happenings.

This digital era has introduced an instantaneous way of accessing news through news snippets on social media. Social media ensures that news travels at lightning-quick speeds. The comment section in the different social media platforms has made the whole issue of news dissemination quite interesting and interactive.

Also, reporters can now report live to audiences and notify their followers, which gives them real-time coverage. This is because social media is fast, free, and always with the individual in his/her pocket.

People are always carrying their mobile phones and have become somewhat addicted. Without phones, many people feel anxious and helpless. Many would feel like they have lost a limb when they accidentally leave their phones at home because they will keep wanting to check what’s new on their social media feeds

Jacky Nkatha, an e-commerce sales person in Kenya says; “When I reach my pocket and find my phone missing, for a moment my stomach lurches, my brain goes into overdrive and my whole body sweats within no time.” She further states that she gets updated with everything going on using her phone and that TV in her home is basically reserved for watching movies.

In the past five years, social media has grown to become a dominant and growing source of news and information for hundreds of millions of people around the globe. More than 3 billion people around the world now use social media each month, with 9 in 10 of those users accessing their chosen platforms via mobile devices. 64.5 percent receive breaking news from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram, instead of traditional media.

Fake News

Fake news was not a term many people used a few years ago, but it is now seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy. Apart from it being Donald Trump’s favorite term, it was also named 2017’s Word of the Year, prompting many people to preach about the need to regulate social media.

Mobile internet and social media are the major vehicles for spreading fake news, rumour, hatred, disinformation and misinformation. This still happens because there are no explicit official rules on the use of social media.

Instances Where Fake News Thrived

In many African countries, fake news has been the cause of war which has led to the loss of lives and property destruction. Being that fake news is cooked, they trigger someone to react to something they have heard, and take action and most of the time the action taken is brutal. In a conflict between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria in 2017, many were killed in reprisal killings sparked by horrific, but false photos purported to depict deaths.

Another piece of fake news that was widely-disseminated is the claim that President Buhari has been replaced with a Sudanese clone named Jubril Buhari was forced to refute repeated claims that he had died and a clone was now running his office.”This is the real me,” said Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, dismissing the allegation as “ignorant rumors” after a period of ill health.

In yet another message of misinformation, Zimbabwean citizens were cautioned that the army had seized the state broadcasting station, the ZBC. Soon after a picture of a building on fire circulated and it was purported to be the ZBC . Later, it turned out to be a picture of a school block that caught fire in 2018.

Fake news spread through social media has become rampant in today’s society. In Kenya just like many African countries, fake news is inevitable in Whatsapp groups. They are especially rampant during election periods and are used to heighten political temperatures. Supporters of the different political divides start to see the opponents as enemies and fake news normally pushes them to engage in unnecessary fights and war of words.

With the existence of Photoshop or digital editing photo and video apps, the truth has become blurred. Based on the subject, most fake news go viral because they are cooked and are, thus, interesting. Journalists are today required to douse the flames of this dangerous wildfire.

Fake news has negatively impacted the credibility of journalism as people are now doubtful about all news. It has damaged the relationship between the audience and the media. Social media and platforms like Google and Facebook have also contributed to the quick and wide spread of fake news.

Digital technology has presented a bewildering array of choices for journalists producing slideshows and video, joining social networks and blogging, using map mashups and mobile devices. The rise of these platforms has led to increased cases of fake news.

Most of the content shared by these platforms lack editorial oversight, and while this key factor suffers lack, information is unchecked and rumours often gain credence over truth.
The challenge of fake news has become rampant prompting individuals and some global media organisations to come up with fact-checking sites where one can verify news before disseminating.

Lugambo is a commonly used term in Uganda which is used to refer to gossip, and for the country’s president Yoweri Museveni, that is the main activity of the social media networks. During the first half of 2018, the president launched a crusade against non-important conversations, scams, rumors and chat online. ‘Lugambo’ was the reason argued to slap a tax on the use of social media networks.

Museveni is not the only one adopting measures to fight fake news. Some African governments have stepped up penalties for the spreading of false information. South Africa is collaborating with Google in a move aimed at curbing fake news during its elections. Facebook also liaised with Nigeria to help solve the issue of fake news during its election period.

Most African governments continue to take stern actions against fake news spread. Journalists are continually being trained on ways they can go about in averting the spread of this menace.

Digital media has transformed the media landscape and has made information easy and convenient. Modern-day journalism has a huge impact in regards to the timeliness of relaying information.

What happens next?

As technology continues to advance, the way news is collected, created, and disseminated will continue to change. A look into the future of digital media portrays a picture where the information available will be ‘too much’ as there are no barriers to entry of more blogs and social media pages and accounts. Because of the saturated information, the majority of traffic will go to the sites that share information first or those that are prominent.

As the information age advances apace, information will be available at a lower cost or even free. This is because it will continue to grow in abundance. The revenue models will also change. Native ads, sponsored content, and broad sponsorship that connect brands with a particular media voice will be the way in the future of digital media in Africa.


Featured Image Courtesy: ThoughtCo

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