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Can Social Media Help Developing Countries? Absolutely!

Mike Shoag

Vice President, Government Services, Forum One

There are many ways that social media is helping developing countries. Here are just a few examples.

Social Media as an Equalizer

Social media helps bring access to information to anyone who can see it. In developing countries, this means that people in rural areas, or with little access to services can now obtain educational, mobile health and financial services in ways that were impossible before mobile technology and the spread of social media.  As one World Health Organization article recently stated, “one fact sheet or an emergency message about an outbreak can be spread through Twitter faster than any influenza virus.”

Social Media Saves Lives

Social media provides real-time insight into the lives of people around the world.  As a result, when major illnesses occur social media is often the first to know.  Clever monitoring of social media can predict disease outbreaks and enable intervention to begin often weeks before the traditional methods would pick up similar results. The Chronicle of Education recently concluded that “Twitter Tracks Cholera Outbreaks Faster than Health Authorities.” Likewise ScienceDaily reports that Twitter has been used to predict flu outbreaks. Likewise, social channels helped predict ebola outbreaks.

Social Media for Economic Empowerment

Be it providing micro-lending or crop prices, social media is helping to empower those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Farmers in developing countries often do not know what the going price is for the crops they are growing. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) details a project they have funded to help rural farmers via SMS messages, “by providing farmers current market information, even rural farmers can make educated, cost effective decisions when buying and selling their crops. As a result, they are more likely to see greater returns.”

Social Media to Mobilize Public Opinion

Many of the examples cited here include using social media to mobilize public opinion – whether it be to protest, to learn, or to strive for fairness.  Other examples include more targeted campaigns such as the video and campaign to catch Joseph Kony – the rebel leader who has brutalized Uganda and neighboring countries.  The Kony results were swift and impressive in moving political will.

Of course social media can be used to mobilize public opinion toward evil as well, as we have seen with ISIS’ recruitment efforts.

Social Media for Organizing Protests

Social media is well known for the ability to coordinate protests.  The best examples of this are throughout the Middle East during the Arab Spring.  Twitter, especially, played a critical role in enabling protesters to organize, meet and resist government security.  The Wired article, “Facebook, Twitter Help the Arab Spring Blossom” provides a good glimpse into this phenomenon.

YouTube to Share Atrocities & Rights Violations

Prior to smart phones, it took special gear to capture everyday life on video.  Before YouTube it was difficult to share your video – even if you had important, unique footage. Now many people have a video camera in their pocket or handbag at all times and can share the footage with the world in an instant.  This has had a dramatic effect in many realms – not least of which is the ability for those in developing countries to share atrocities in nearly real-time. This footage from Cairo to Syria has helped to focus world attention even when traditional media has not been present.

Social Media for Fair and Just Elections

Social media can help document and disseminate vote rigging and voting rights violations. TechPresident.com documented One Bulgarian nonprofit that created a mobile app called “I vote.” The platform informs users of their voting rights and obligations and will let them monitor the fairness of the election.

Social Media to Monitor and Report on Corruption

Social media is being used to expose corruption and help root it out. One important player is the websites “iReport” where individuals can provide the details of bribes they gave and the officials who took them.  Likewise, it was a young Tunisian man who is often credited with starting the Arab Spring by setting himself on fire to bring attention to the corruption of the local police.  He began the revolution… but social media allowed to spread and organize.

Special thanks to Eric Williams, former Democratic Staff Director, Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, US Congress for his thoughts on how social media can impact international development.

Written By

Mike Shoag

Vice President, Government Services, Forum One

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