Understanding How Social Media Is Changing Human Discourses
A review of The Discourse of Digital Civic Engagement: Perspective from the Developing World by Ademola Adesola.
WITH the advent of the New Media, a means of mass communication enabled and enhanced by the exponential rise in digital technologies, comes an incredible change in human communicative and interactive undertakings. The social media, with the active aide of the Internet, is increasingly reshaping the tenor and texture of human discourses, socio-political discourses especially. Digital media technologies are now powerful tools that provide veritable grounds for effective communication and exchange of information across different divides. As it is in the developed spheres of the globe where digital media technologies broke forth and are exhaustively deep-rooted, the developing nations of the world are now equally appropriating the manifold advantages of the New Media as well as developing strategies to manage its vexing propensities.
In Nigeria for example, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Instagram, among a couple of nondescript others, have become notable market places of ideas. In these spaces, robust discussions of socio-political and economic issues supervene. The habitués of these spaces – known in certain circles as ‘netizens’ or ‘internet rodents’ – freely cross the swords of disagreement with one another on matters of national relevance, and consistently critically x-ray the (in)actions of both governmental and non-governmental personages.
Accordingly, it is to the New Media, its technology-enabled widening platforms principally, that we are indebted to for the rise of ‘citizen journalism’ (aka participatory/democratic journalism), an unregulated orb where citizens effectively participate in the process of gathering, reporting, analysing, and publicising news and information. Because of the radical improvement in digital communication technologies, many more citizens now consider journalism as critical to their socio-economic wellbeing and as such cannot be left entirely to certified journalists.
What we now have, courtesy of the New Media, is a democratised public space which ensures that citizens effectually participate in shaping and contributing to local, national, and international discourses. Through electronic devices of varied capacities, citizens not only share information but also express their views on a broad range of issues concerning the development of their country.
The foregoing reflections constitute the substance of *The Discourse of Digital Civic Engagement*: *Perspective from the Developing World*, a book of scholarly essays jointly edited by two illustrious Von Humboldt academics, RotimiTaiwo and Tunde Opeibi. The strikingly readable book of essays underscores the nearly boundless roles that the New Media – more precisely digital communication technologies – undertake in the socio-political communications of modern times. These digital media technologies, the book argues forcefully, are incrementally responsible for the expansion in communication in public space, and are restyling and revolutionising socio-political discourses in the arenas of the developing world. They thicken the culture of civic engagement as well as make it easier for citizens to engage, rib, sting, and astound political actors.
The editors give voice to this when they piquantly observe thus: ‘The virtually complete liberalisation of communication – information sharing specifically – that is a feature of today’s global village is something that politicians and other stakeholders must view with both admiration and trepidation – understandably so. The manner in which virtually every private and public discourses go viral on the Internet in today’s world acknowledges the critical roles (both positive and negative) that digital media technologies are now playing.’
They assemble a wide range of scholars who from different perspectives and with variedly relevant theoretical frameworks niftily describe ‘how the public sphere in an emerging democracy has become the socio-political space where digital technologies are gradually becoming the key drivers of change’. The remarkable thing about each of the essays in the book is the relevance of their theoretical frames and case studies. The data they engage are drawn from major events and sites in Nigeria involving notable events and personalities. It is in this context that the book can be viewed as one which can be accessed by every literate user of the multiple social media platforms.
This edited volume of well-focused disquisitions has 10 chapters contributed to by 15 experienced and burgeoning academics. The essays provide insightful analyses – from the Facebook account of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Washington Navy Yard shooting and the Nairobi Westgate attack (both in September 2013), ASUU industrial action of 2013, the Ebola virus of recent memory, to newspaper political cartoons, to the seeming gulf between the older adults of society (the digital immigrants) and the younger adults (the netizens), and to sermons detailing the horrors of poverty, religion, and politics.
The Discourse of Digital Civic Engagement is as useful for researchers in the fields of Linguistics, Information and Communications Technology, and Media as it is for anyone willing to further enrich their minds on how the Internet widens the boundaries of human coexistence.
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