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Centre of African Studies: News


'Social Media in Africa: Beyond the hashtag'

Wednesday 26th - Thursday 27th April 2017

The huge uptake of affordable smartphones across Africa and improved network access has led to more social media subscribers on the continent than ever before. For many Africans social media has now become a part of everyday life, helping to maintain social ties and to forge new connections. Social media has become the primary source of news from both mainstream media and emerging citizen journalists. The technology is a new space to showcase creativity on the continent, in which artists, musicians and poets are reaching wider audiences. Likewise, activists have also found in social media a venue for domestic and international support. Social media has become a place of political mobilization and debate for both government and opposition.

Behind most hashtags or trending topics can lie a complex series of relationships rooted in a historical context. While social media is frequently celebrated for its positive impacts, there are growing concerns that it can be an uncomfortable and even dangerous space. These difficult-to-regulate platforms have at times been used to perpetuate hate speech and, in extreme cases, to incite violence. Government clampdowns on social media have been at the forefront of debates concerning freedom of expression, and have sometimes led to arrests and imprisonment of citizens using this new means of communication.

The study of social media in Africa must acknowledge that its use – while growing – is predominantly situated in urban centres and more developed parts of the continent. Much like earlier concerns about mobile phones and the digital divide, there are issues of access relating to factors such as age, gender and education. There are also critical debates over whether social media is widening or bridging the gap in access to information within and between countries.

Social media is also seen as a novel way for external engagement with the continent. International businesses are increasingly using social media to reach a massive market of new customers, while NGOs also recognise the potential of the technology to influence and implement developmental goals. Researchers both in Africa and outside are tapping into social media as a new form of data collection.

 This workshop aims to stimulate debates and to create new networks of researchers on social media in Africa. The organisers plan to submit a peer-reviewed journal special issue on the topic.

You can view our programme here. 

You can register for your ticket here.