Dumi’s Digest: Dot your i’s and cross your tweets

2014-02-25 10:00

Sometimes you can be sure you will never do a certain thing in your life and even be prepared to die by your decision?–?only to change it in the future.

About four years ago, myself and a colleague, who was also a good friend, had a conversation about why I had not joined any of the social networks out there.

My colleague asked: “Mfowethu, why aren’t you on Facebook?”

At the time, he was clearly enjoying himself on the site, connecting with friends and making new ones. “You are missing out, mtshana,” he said.

In response and clearly annoyed by being asked why I should be on something I didn’t have the time for, I said: “Why should I be? I will never be on Facebook. Never. That will happen over my dead body.”

This was my answer and I was certain of it at the time.

I had my reasons and they are still valid today.

How can anyone expose their life in that manner?

How can anyone post pictures that any person in the world can view at their leisure without permission?

I declared I would never expose my young sons to such a thing.

The what-ifs continued and my final answer was that I would never do such a thing.

Well, let’s just say never is a long time.

Back then, I tried to find all the reasons I shouldn’t be on Facebook or Twitter, but forgot the basic idea of weighing the pros and cons of such platforms to make an informed decision.

By October 2011, I saw the light of what social media could do for me.

Today, I can instantly connect with most of my family members and childhood friends via Facebook.

It is also proving to be handy in my profession. You can post a question or a statement and in no time at all you’re flooded with responses from people who are friends or Twitter followers.

And you can get a debate going on an issue without having to send a formal invitation.

A few months after I joined Facebook, the friend to whom I swore I would never join Facebook messaged me on my then relatively new page, asking: “I thought you said you would never be on Facebook?”

I pondered what to say and how to explain what had changed, and replied: “Things change, JMN. I saw the light when we were at the World Editors’ Forum in Vienna last October.” He replied: “The world is changing indeed. I am battling to get Twitter working.”

I said: “Already there. Started in Vienna. Who said what happens in Vienna stays in Vienna?”

Indeed, the world is changing and social networks are taking centre stage. The Arab Spring in north African countries was mainly driven by the use of social media to organise protests.

Social media is very much a part of our lives. We tweet the news before we listen to it on our radios (radio was the fastest means of getting news before the internet came along). And we read the news on our smartphones and tablets before we page through the newspapers.

Politicians, especially those from the ANC, are also taking note of how the world is changing and are adapting accordingly.

At its elective conference in Mangaung in 2012, the ANC noted it should “develop and expand the use of social media to engage” with the citizenry, especially its younger members who are technologically savvy.

Not a day passes without a notification on my Twitter timeline to follow this or that provincial politician, MEC or minister.

And the notifications are increasing as the elections draw near.

But there is a lesson for all new users of social media.

Even seasoned users like the DA make embarrassing mistakes that can have serious implications.

Not too long ago, the DA posted a statement on social networks condemning ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s blue-light convoy, which had apparently knocked down a cyclist.

It turned out the DA forgot to verify the information before posting it.

In fact, the cyclist fell on his own and was on the opposite side of the convoy.

As the elections draw nearer, I hope the ANC has developed a guide (like it promised it would in Mangaung) to advise their members on how to conduct themselves on social media.

So, happy social networking as we head into the elections!

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