Facebook has been a game changer across the world. With more than 1.2 billion users, the most powerful social media network has made the world look smaller. In The Gambia, it has created a huge socio-cultural shift and changed the way people relate to each other.
Most Gambians initially joined Facebook to generally track their old friends and reminisce with them, and show off their latest gadgets, clothes and lifestyles. But over the last 10 years, major events have changed the way Gambians use and perceive social media, most especially Facebook.
So what has Facebook changed for Gambians?
We meet three of the Gambia’s thousands and thousands of avid Facebook users to gauge their views on the impact of the social network on what they do, as well as the challenges.
Latirr Carr – Co-Founder of Balafong, Gambia’s first Facebook discussion forum
Well….for me Facebook is an escape. It used to be a very serious platform for me. As it stands, Facebook for me has become a pastime. I get on my newsfeed to laugh at things deserving of laughter, have pleasant exchanges with “friends” and to weigh in my views on the most irrelevant of topics. I believe my life is serious enough in reality so, I keep my virtual presence light and fun.
Social Media in itself has evolved over the years and therefore the way it is used has also evolved. Of course the basic use of social media still remains essentially that, however the changes have included its marketing capabilities, activism potential, con artistry but most importantly, its use as a subtle form of virtual plastic surgery for the turning of heads and wooing of potential suitors.
I’ll say it has become a tool for keeping me sane and somehow, keeping me sane somehow leads to some of the issues I bring up being discussed. I guess people take me more serious than I do myself. I remember a campaign to take a horrible menace off our streets (tuta pack) started on Facebook (Balafong to be exact) and that was even before Facebook became as powerful as it is today. So regardless of how effective my personal campaigns or raised eyebrows have been, there is no doubt that social media (and Facebook specifically) is easily one of the most effective tools for any form of campaign including activism.
My version is that it emanated from a series of discussions I had first with Amran Gaye (or should I say Amran Gaye had with me?) and then this extended to friends of his (or ours?). So I’d call myself a founding partner (if Balafong was a law firm…*laughs*). But we should remember Balafong wasn’t just a Facebook page but a website also where I was also a contributing writer.! I’ll always be proud of our accomplishment if for no other reason but that. Balafong basically showed Gambians what could happen in the virtual sphere.
Many positive undertakings started on the group from open debates and interactions.
It was Gambia’s first Facebook discussion forum which brought that many people together in an organized manner. I believe Balafong, no matter how you look at it, was our Egyptian pyramid and it should be saved in the archives as one of the biggest contributors ever to a modern Gambia. The relationships that were built on that page created links that can be felt across an entire generation of movers and shakers and the way we interact as a people online changed since then.
I believe that as Gambians begin to understand the power of social media and the growing access that the entire nation has to such platforms, a lot can be done to influence social patterns and behaviors. Of course we must remember that this can be both negative and positive. People are free to use it as they please. I do not think there is a specific formula as to how it should be used. That is the beauty of social media. It can be created for a purpose but essentially it becomes what the community feel it should be (of course within set boundaries).
Absa Samba, Activist
I was interested in connecting with people. Let’s say it was the ‘happening’. However, as a Gambian at the time with access, I wanted to know what was happening, what people were saying and get on there really exposed me to the many realities of my country.
Online activism is the issue of the 21st century. In the case of Gambians, we have used it to fight dictatorship and to a large extent contributed to exposed the actions of the then government. Social media and Facebook specifically allows activists and people with similar interests to join efforts and offer solidarity regardless of what part of the world people are for both visibility and impact. This has been achieved in many instances.
There is value in the difference and diversity we have in the way each and everyone of us use our Facebook accounts. I’ll however, encourage people to remember to ask themselves this question, ‘how does my presence here benefit me and others? What purpose does it serve?’ And I hope we serve and continue to serve the good purpose.
Harona Drammeh, Media Practitioner
In the beginning I was using Facebook for personal reasons, now I use it for business. Most of my competitors are on Facebook and you will observe that I watch everybody from every network in The Gambia. I was watching all of these new Facebook TV stations that we have in and outside of the Gambia by Gambians. I don’t want to say I spy on my competitors, but just to see what they are doing and also what my staff is also doing on the same platform. So, I use it predominantly.
I believe there is a major shift in the usage of Gambians on Facebook. Initially, Gambians use Facebook to show their new shoes, cloths, who dresses better and who travels where and who does what, but we saw in the later part of Yaya Jammeh Government that when traditional media was primarily controlled and dominated by that one person, social media specially Facebook began to be used as a medium of rebellion, as a medium of venting anger and frustrations. At that point, is when I saw the business potential of Facebook as a new medium to reckon with and a power it had. Because it now gave a platform to everybody without restriction to be able to express yourself.
“What Facebook had done is that, it gives every individual control.
Traditional media tells you what it wants you to hear, it lets you to see what it wants you to see. It dictates tone, the pace when and how that you can consume the information be it news, entertainment. But now what Facebook had done, is to make everybody that directs a program on Television via a simple device or a mobile phone. All you need to do is to design the content, design what you want to say and how you want to say it.
I think what has already become an issue is fake news and how people now makeup stories under Facebook’s platform that now becomes very difficult to know what is right and what wrong. The danger of social media is, you cannot manage or regulate it because everybody is in control of that content. Everybody has audiences, it doesn’t matter what you say and someone out there will consume these wrong information. So, these are the challenges.
I think if we are going to leave any legacy to anyone, especially to younger people that a coming in the media space, is to learn responsibility. To understand that if you have a following, if people listen to you and people respect you, if people watch you, you have a responsibility to dictate the tone and lifestyle and the responsible behavior that is expected of you. You have to understand that you can also encourage the larger community. Let us also remember that, social media does not forget, and dose not erase, so what we do today will last for eternity. Therefore, we have to be responsible. Be careful what you post If you know that 20 years down the line you may be embarrassed of it, don’t! don’t! post it today.