Chris Moerdyk

'Comrades, this is your president tweeting'

2011-05-23 09:13

Chris Moerdyk

One of the most significant events in the local government elections last weeks, was a Twitter message signed simply by "the Prez".

Admittedly, President Zuma only managed to send out half dozen or so tweets, but despite that he attracted more than 20 000 followers in no time flat. A remarkable accomplishment.

Whether or not he was influenced by US President Obama's successful social media campaign that many analysts say played a huge role in getting him elected, or the fact that DA leader Helen Zille has been extremely active on Twitter,  no-one really knows.

But, it really doesn't matter because he has dipped his toe into the social media water and I have no doubt that his advisors will encourage him to take the plunge. Because by the time the national elections come around, social media will play a far bigger role than it has so far.

The problem, however, is that once politicians embrace social media, they'll find they can't just turn it on and off at will. They can't just send out messages and not respond to the questions raised by recipients.

While Obama might well have gained an enormous amount from social media such as Twitter, there is no doubt that he really doesn't like Wikileaks one bit given the embarrassment this site has caused his administration.

And that's the problem with anything that uses the world wide web to reach people - whether its Facebook, Twitter, Wikileaks or the thousands upon thousands of news media sites, you can't really have one without the other.

Ousted President Mubarak tried that in Egypt when he was under severe pressure and rebels started using social media to organise themselves and muster followers to action.

Sure, he did shut down the internet but not for long because he very quickly realised that no business today can function without the internet, governments can't function without the internet and most of all tourism in any country is massively dependent on the internet as a form of promotion, booking and co-coordinating tours.

Right now in the UK, a fascinating scenario is unfolding. A celebrity footballer was granted an interdict by the High Court preventing British media from naming him in a sex scandal.

Trouble is somebody on Twitter just went ahead and revealed his name anyway.

Twitter is now being sued but win or lose, this case will simply amount to farting against thunder in the long term.

Because it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to control social media content. Not only social media content but mainstream news media content.

With newspapers being read online and satellite TV reaching every corner of the earth, it is going to be well nigh impossible for any government to control the editorial or advertising content.

Let's say the Australian government decides to ban advertising of a certain product, what will it be able to do when cricket tests and international rugby matches from New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and Europe are shown in Australia with the product they have banned resplendent on player's jerseys or on billboards around the field? Heaven forbid any government that blocks a big game on TV because banned advertising is featured.

With growing numbers of youth getting involved in social media, there is no doubt that marketers will make increasing use of this to advertise.

Something made all the more easy when young people are offered internet access to social media free of charge on condition that they agree to allow advertising.

Not a heck of a lot anyone can do about that.

Young people the world over are becoming global. The way they dress, the music they listen to, the habits they get into are all being dictated by the power of social media and the mobile internet.

While today, governments are trying to protect their youth from all sorts of things from junk food to smoking, this kind of protection will become less and less effective.

And the only way forward then will be for governments to educate parents on how to bring up their children properly.

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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