This past Sunday, social media apps (Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp) were down for more than two hours globally. With nowhere else to turn to, people resorted to twitter where they started venting.
Such a momentary plight in the digital world revealed our habitual usage of social media apps and how we’ve let them become part and parcel of our daily lives.
From checking your phone while queuing at the bank to posting intimate photos that would’ve been safer kept discreet, we’ve become social media addicts. We’ve reached a point where social media plays a pivotal role in our existence.
The recent shutdown revealed the level of dependence that people have on social media.
In 2018, the Tanzanian government issued a ban on usage of social media during working hours by civil servants. Such a move, however debatable it was, showed how social media had become an integral part of society.
According to stat counter (a global statistics observer), Facebook accounts for about 60 per cent of social media users in Tanzania.
This is followed by Pinterest with 18 per cent, Twitter 8.16 per cent, YouTube 7.47 per cent and Instagram at 5.25 per cent.
As digital influence continues to rise, it facilitates a conducive environment for enhanced usage of social media apps. In Tanzania today, if you want to be a national phenomenon then you cannot escape the use of social media to gain attention.
Different industries leverage on social media to popularize their products. In the entertainment industry, a common trend locally known as “kiki” has become a marketing benchmark used by musicians to make their projects popular online.
Knowing that Tanzanians are avid users of social media apps, they [artistes] stage online drama in order to become the talk of town.
Though effective, such gimmicks eventually ran out of style as users of social media grew tired of the monotony and highly exaggerated dramas that musicians kept feeding them. With technology, people always yearn for something new.
The influence that social media has on the lives of Tanzanians cannot be ignored. It influences how people live their lives, some go to extreme lengths trying to please online audience – they call it “do it for the gram”. Terms such as “Slay Queens” have become common online because they depict the lives that people portray on social media – often times what we see is far from reality.
Online trends have come and gone and everyday people think of new ways of staying relevant through social media. It’s like they cannot live without being relevant online – they live a digital life.
Not all is negative when it comes to the life style of using social media all the time. There’s a business side to it; users of social media apps, especially Instagram have generated millions of shillings through advertising products on their accounts.
Irene Kayuni, a second year Diploma student at the University of Dar es Salaam, has immensely benefited from using social media.
Majoring in journalism, she uses the apps to access academic material and stay upto date on current news. “Social media has helped me a lot as a student,” she says. “I cannot imagine life without social media. It has become part of my daily routine,” she adds.
For Angel Kayombo, another Journalism student at the University of Dar es Salaam, social media has not only helped her academically, but she also uses it as a platform to advertise different businesses she engages in. “As a student, one cannot survive without social media.
We gain a lot online. When I want to reach out to my clients, I use social media. It is so significant. Life can never be the same without Instagram, Facebook or Whatsapp,” she says.
When her Instagram account was hacked in 2017, Bongo Flava artiste Shilole was brought to tears as she pleaded with the hackers to return her account. “I use my account to stay in touch with my fans.
I have over 2 million followers. I advertise my music and my catering business through my Instagram account,” Shilole lamented when interviewed.
Social media has become so pivotal to the everyday life that news now spreads faster online than anywhere else.
People get their news from social media accounts. This has had a far greater effect on traditional media such as print that now play second fiddle to online pages. What might have started as a platform for people to pass time is now being commercialized to a great extent.
Social media has become a complex arena filled with opportunities and disappointments in equal measures.
It has revolutionized the way that we propagate news and opinions. People have lost their jobs due to something they said online. In most cases, what was posted years back is dug up and brought to life just to ruin someone’s career.
In the US, one of the leading markets when it comes to social media usage, people follow keenly everything that is said online.
Celebrities have had their careers ended because of social media. From making problematic statements to trying to get attention, these celebrities find themselves on the wrong side of society opinion over what they posted. Yet somehow a majority of them can’t seem to let go of using social media.
One of the most famous examples of an actor’s career going up in flames because of social media is none other than Amanda Bynes, who rose to fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s on the Nickelodeon shows All That and The Amanda Show. She however later had a very public breakdown that escalated into a full-on social media meltdown on Twitter.
Fans were quick to drop her like a hot potato.
When musician Diamond Platnumz posted a video on his Instagram account of him driving without wearing a seatbelt, little did he know that that video would land him on the wrong side of the law. He was later summoned by police and made to issue a public apology.
Other celebrities have had worse experiences that came as a result of using social media. Nandy and Billnas, both bongo flava artistes where on the spotlight following a video that went viral on social media showing the two in an intimate act. They later issued public apologies after receiving backlash from society.
Whether we like or not, we cannot escape the reality that social media has become part of our identity. Some people would rather share their personal problems on social media than talk to their partners. Intimate details are put out in the open for all to bare.
Dr Chris Mauki, a psychologist and relationships expert, said that some couples find it easier venting on social media than addressing the issue with their partner. “Due to the high influence of social media, partners in a relationship, especially women, find it more comforting talking about personal issue online. They share their concerns with their girlfriends through either Facebook or Whatsapp groups,” he says.
The impact that social media has on society is so apparent that the platform is now regulated. Under Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), laws such as Cyber Crimes Act have been enacted to ensure that people do not misuse social media.