Human communication has evolved over time. The history of communication dates back to prehistoric times, with significant changes in communication technologies (media and appropriate inscription tools) evolving in tandem with shifts in political and economic systems, and by extension, systems of power. From the days of the smoke signal to an instant chat message on a social networking site such as Facebook. The graph below shows the timeline of the various communication methods used by humans in history.
Most people I know have some social networking site (Facebook, Twitter, Mxit, etc) account which they use to share, inform and reconnect with friends and relatives. If you need to get in touch with them and catch up on any issues in their lives , they simply say “get hold of me on Facebook, Twitter or any other social network”.
The number social networking sites users is growing everyday in developing countries. A critical part of social network adaptation is a translation to many languages. For example, thanks to a group of Swahili scholars, Facebook launched a Swahili version of its network potentially targeting more than 110 Million people. Social networks are doing a great job in developing countries, driving ICT adoption especially by young people. However, critics may ask, “what are the real benefits of social networks? What is their real purpose apart from posting photos, chatting and playing games?” Some people are skeptical about the real impact of social networking in developing countries. My opinion is that, social networks can have a positive impact in developing countries, and we just need to exploit their true power. Below I outline a few examples of simple ways in which the power of social networks can be utilized for development.
Most small businesses in developing countries have limited access to capital, hence they need to keep their costs to a minimum. Social networking sites are important especially for businesses as they are cheaper to setup and maintain for marketing purposes. They rarely experience frequent outage like some websites do and they provide an opportunity to reach out to a larger market for potential customers in different regions.
Students and teachers can communicate via social networking sites. Groups of general interest can be created and members can join and discuss relevant topics. The distance barrier can be eliminated and students in developing countries can be assigned mentors from developed countries to assist them in life and career decisions.
There is a severe shortage of doctors, nurses, health workers and drugs in a large number of developing countries. Many patients never see a doctor or visit a clinic and those who do visit one often do not receive the care and treatment they deserve due to lack of resources. Thousands of people, mostly children, die from mistreatment (and sometimes from no treatment) of illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, dehydration, malnutrition and malaria. There are some areas in developing countries where the closest qualified doctor is hundreds of kilometers away. Social networking sites can be used to bridge this barrier with a qualified doctor communicating directly with patients or with a standby medical representative of the area. Patients can relay the symptoms they are experiencing and a doctor can provide a diagnosis via a social network site. The model where the doctor is physically present is definitely ideal as they can physically examine the patients, however the social networking model is better than nothing at all.
Social networking sites can also be used as a platform to send messages in support of public health and behavioral change campaigns, information delivery to health workers, and to send and receive data on disease incidence, outbreaks and public emergencies.
Social networking sites can be used for mobilisation as well as promoting certain causes/issues. This makes it possible to reach a wider audience, to get more support, for example, running a “say no to violence campaign”. A large part of Barack Obama’s successful campaign in the 2008 American election was due to presence on the social networking platforms.
Jobs / Recruitment
Social networking sites allow recruiters to establish relationships with candidates while promoting their company and leveraging relationships into placements down the road. The benefits of social networking sites as a talent acquisition tool are numerous.
Utilizing social networking sites allows recruiters to:
- Expand contacts.
- Search to find candidates that are not accessible elsewhere.
- Find passive job-seekers in a targeted manner.
- Get much more insight into a person than a just a resume.
- Build a new economic recruitment source (most sites are free).
- Interact with the candidates informally and easily.
- Reach individuals 24/7.
Individuals also benefit from being able to advertise their skills through an additional channel provided by social networking sites.
Social / Lifestyle
Parts of the developing world are missing a whole generation of youngsters who have left for the diaspora and left behind family and loved ones. This separation would have taken a huge toll on these social relationships in the snail-mail era. The ability to communicate with people who are thousands of kilometers away from us is crucial.
There are problems especially for youngsters who are not fully aware, not only of the benefits but also of the dangers associated with using the internet including social networking sites which store a lot of individual information. Security threats such as hacking into user accounts, stealing of private information, bullying etc and even human trafficking can result from the use of social networking sites. However with the appropriate education, these problems become trivial.
Distances and lack of transportation infrastructure hinders development of countries. Social networking, by connecting people from different locations will help lead to the emergence of projects with a wider foundation and effect. The main effect of these social networks lies in driving young people to develop relationships online or developing the existing ones. Social networking can contribute to attract these young people to the world of internet and ICT, and with the power of word and the spread of information more youth find themselves dragged to the cyber-space and this is a benefit that needs to be utilized. Nevertheless, social networking allows for the chance, to overcome social, political, governmental barriers, as well as the physical barriers of infrastructure.