The Reach of Social Media: Kenya

Every hour I spend on the internet, which is more often than not, I am intrigued by everything that social media does. This is just another story I found on CNN which highlights the reach of social media to those who can be considered less fortunate and are plagued by media barriers.

In this story, it is explained that Chief Francis Kariuki of the Kenyan police received a call from the local police station late one night, only to find out that someone was being robbed. The first thing Kariuki thought to do was to tweet. So that he did. In Swahili, his native language, he tweeted a simple phrase: “Thieves in Kelven’s living room, let’s help him out please.” Because local residents text-subscribe to the police chief’s tweets, neighbors surrounded Kelvin’s house, scaring away the robbers.

This story highlights many different concepts about social information. The first concept shown through this story is the reach of social media. If the chief hadn’t thought of tweeting, where would Kelven be? The fact that the townspeople who subscribed to his tweets reacted so quickly and diffused the situation proves that social media isn’t about sitting around on your couch anymore and reading over people’s timelines on Facebook. This shows that social media has turned to activism. Over the past few months, I have been following Occupy Wall Street stories, environmental activism stories, and others just like them that highlight the activist spirit that is instilled in so many Twitter users.

Another concept about this story that catches my eye is about the barriers to media development. In my international communications class, we have been learning about barriers to media development that can cripple a country: mountains can obstruct signals, governments can restrict access, or the technology simply isn’t there, for example. As highlighted in this story, the barriers are fading away, which is a lot to say for Africa. Later in the article, a study was cited that social media in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and Morocco are all expanding their social media efforts. It also states in the article that several barriers do impede internet access, including a lack of computers, internet, or smart phones. However, most of these townspeople now have cell phones, and are able to subscribe to Chief Kariuki’s tweets.

Beatrice Karanja, head of Portland Nairobi, independent global consulting firm, explains African twitter use: “We saw the pivotal role of Twitter in the events in North Africa last year, but it is clear that Africa’s Twitter revolution is really just beginning. Twitter is helping Africa and Africans to connect in new ways and swap information and views. And for Africa — as for the rest of the world — that can only be good” (CNN article). Not only is Africa taking steps to more connectivity, but also towards the green movement paired with information exchange, which I always like to see! Chief Kariuki states in the article that “Every time we have barazas (meetings) twice a month, I make attendees subscribe to my tweets using their regular SMS or text messaging services. It has not only saved on the cost of fliers, it has also allowed us to save trees and contribute to green efforts.” What’s not to like about global connectivity and the spread of the environmental movement!?

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