Embrace social media tools to promote transparency and accountability, citizens urged


By Clarity Sibanda-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media and Broadcasting Services, Prince Sibanda has called on the citizens to embrace social media tools to complement advocacy efforts while emphasising that when effectively used these tools can be resourceful technologies in promoting good governance in the country’s natural resources sector.

Sibanda said this yesterday during a zoom meeting organised by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) whose broader objective was to capacitate Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the citizens on the use of social media tools as key components in promoting good corporate governance.  

The role of promoting transparency and accountability does not rest with journalists alone, citizens and civil society groups equally must ensure they embrace different social media tools to foster human development. The internet has liberated the public sphere and allowed erstwhile consumers of information to become ‘prosumers’ – producers and consumers of information with the privilege to partake in the generation, production and distribution of information.

Centre for Innovation and Technology Director, Zenzele Ndebele implored the participants to ensure they intensify community engagement so that communities become the primary players in the generation, production and distribution of information. This will ensure that the voices of the affected is not left out, an effective way of enhancing inclusive development programming.

Ndebele added that CSOs must identify the right social media platforms and develop audience specific messages for each while emphasizing that working in solidarity can achieve notable results. He drew an example from the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter noteworthy hashtag movement whose success can also be credited to solidarity in fighting for a common cause. The favorable outcome of such engagements depends on how players design the digital strategy.

The participants quizzed the presenters on ways to differentiate real and fake news so that they contribute to an accurate information environment.263 Chat Founder, Nigel Mugamu noted that a cell phone has become a mobile device of the century and in this era of intensifying media platforms it is important to be wary of fake news in a quest to discourage misinformation. Mugamu urged the participants to always verify and not be enthused by the sensational headlines. Information verification can also include checking if other media organisations or CSOs are reporting the same issue.

The meeting also saw the launch of the ZELA research report, a study which sought to critically examine how social media platforms can be effectively used to enhance accountability in the extractive sector, identify the gaps, opportunities and to proffer recommendations on how the government, CSOs and citizens can use social media to enhance transparency and accountability in the sector.

On the use of social media to promote transparency and accountability in Zimbabwe’s extractive sector, Admire Mare(Ph.D.) the researcher in the assignment noted that  unlike traditional media organisations whose operations are subjected to structural influences by owners, shareholders, editors and other players, social media platforms present a relatively free venue for citizens to engage in transparency and accountability interventions.

“While a lot of attention has been focused on the role of traditional media forms in influencing transparency and accountability, little attention has been paid to the role played by social media in public governance, particularly in the extractive industry. Social media is fast becoming a preferred medium of sharing information with audiences due to its ubiquity, immediacy and accessibility while mainstream media is constrained by editorial guidelines and institutional culture. However, although the former is accessible to all who have smartphones it is more suitable in promoting issues of common good and giving actors a voice to be part of development processes”, he noted.

Below are some of the recommendations that came out of the meeting;

  • There is need to enhance the capacity of Members of Parliament and government agencies so that they become competent users of social media tools. This will allow them to engage with their constituencies across space and time. In that way, they can better hold mining companies and public officials accountable. A limited number of MPs are active on social media and this affects their ability to engage and comprehend changes affecting the extractive industry and other sectors;
  • CSOs working in the extractive industries must continue with online cross-promotion between various social media platforms. However, there is need for the organizations to invest in digital strategies including audience growth strategies. Engagement is important because it promotes participatory communication and affords an opportunity for the organizations to evaluate the impact of their interventions;
  • The information must be packaged in non-technical language so that the targeted audience can easily comprehend it. These messages must also be target-specific;
  • CSOs must promote citizen journalism initiatives on their websites and social media platforms. This entails creating comment sections or community blogs where citizens and community members write about their own experiences as a way of promoting citizen journalism. This is an effective way of capacitating them so that they become self-sufficient in future, and in the process promote greater transparency and accountability;
  • There is also need to use popular communication channels like songs, art, memes, gifs and cartoons to break down the technical jargon.

Overall, CSOs should continue capacitating communities on the effective use of social media tools for their own benefit so that these tools become effective tools of glory and not doom.

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