Leveraging new media to enhance advocacy in contemporary Ghana

New media has revolutionized and provided platforms that have improved communication across the globe. It has made information sharing less tedious. It has also created more opportunities for young people and created space for both government and non-governmental organizations, including individuals to have quality conversations, negotiations and dialogue. 

With advanced and novel information, communication and technology tools, there has been easy information sharing, content creation and various options for online advocacy, as a result of which communication barriers have been removed and decentralized channels opened the door for people to have a voice and engage in conversations that border on development, as Amedie (2015) has asserted.

According to Yujie (2022), new media comprises of communication technologies or all kinds of web – related technologies like social networking sites, blogs, and social media platforms et al that enable or enhance interaction between users, content and content creators. In recent years, it has been a novel means of interacting with individuals and groups with the help of digital platforms (social media). Brucker (2019), notes in one of his papers that, new media has been an important commodity since its introduction in the digital world. It has created a common platform for advocacy groups that wish to have their voices heard. Interestingly, other advocacy groups including political activists and other political public relations officials widely acknowledge the value of online media attention as a weapon of advocacy to impact political decision-making across the globe as argued by Binderkrantz (2017).

The emergence of new media is a blessing to most advocacy groups. For them, it has created room for behind-the-scenes conversations and negotiations without putting in much energy as previously required. It has aided political actors and other interest groups to have less interrupted discussions in the interest of nation-building according to Dür and Mateo (2013).

Some recent studies have argued strongly that, media attention can constrain interest-group influence, particularly for business interests.  However, another section of the public relation society believes that new media can provide a common platform upon which advocacy groups can draw the attention of governments and other interested global organizations about the happenings in various sectors, be it climate change, education, agriculture or finance.

Others have become self-aware of how new media presence can backfire, for instance when advocacy groups are scandalized or receive negative coverage about their activities. Drawing from these two seemingly contrasting standpoints, this piece won’t argue much on whether the introduction of new media can be both a blessing and a curse for advocacy groups. Many researchers and new media activists have stressed the need why advocates and advocacy groups must adopt and understand the role of new media technologies in developing their own digital identity in this modern age (Yasin et al, 2022). This will also help them to know how citizens participate in social or political mass discussions on these platforms.

Leveraging new media to achieve a common purpose

The National Communication Authority (NCA) reports that almost every household in Ghana owns a smartphone and with the influx of about 45 million cellular phones in Ghana, it seems a greater number of Ghanaians have Internet access.

According to Dr. Albert Boasiako of the Cyber Security Authority Ghana, Ghana’s Internet penetration has marginally increased from 2.31 million in 2012 to 17 million users in 2022, representing 53 per cent of the population, and statistics on the Internet usage recently published by Hootsuite (2022), show that over 62% of the world’s population (4.95 billion) have access to the Internet. Some studies also have shown that there is an increase in the percentage of people using new media technologies to search or verify information from 4% in 2008 to 36% in 2018 (Tsortanidou et al, 2019).

The Cyber Security Authority, Ghana in 2022 indicated that, the available records show that the average time spent on the Internet on a normal day by a Ghanaian youth is five hours (2022), and this indicates how people spend more time surfing the Internet. The institution also has made it known that, on average most Ghanaians sit on the Internet for long hours and for that matter on social media platforms. This buttresses the point that new media with the rate of growth, the infinite influx of social media lovers, and the sense of urgency to text and respond to friends and other associates have made its introduction and use important. Besides, this is a new normal with some touch of Artificial Intelligence in reaching out to billions of people within an unspecified time frame. This by far, is a good moment which many expert advocates and advocacy groups ought to explore to the core, to help enhance their activities.

Activism and the Internet

In the process of leveraging new media, and telling how effective it has been over the years, and how positively it has contributed to lives, advocates should not hesitate to educate people on its contributions to their activism, especially in this 21st century. Its importance and digital effects cannot be understated looking at the numbers these new media platforms pull and command and their reach.

Consider the spread of the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) red and pink equals sign, which nearly three million Facebook users espoused in 2013 as their profile photo (Bakshy 2013), after HRC changed their usual blue and yellow logo to red and pink in anticipation of oral arguments in front of the US Supreme Court on California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. The kind of attention they got, globally and the numbers they were able to command in support of their advocacy increased.

Furthermore, a famous Canadian journalist, author and public speaker, Malcolm Gladwell has widely and strongly argued that online activism doesn’t include violence or vigorous activities, hence making it ‘unreal’ in the eyes of people. He further stated that social media activism has demotivated people to involve in what he termed as ‘real sacrifices.’ To him, this is to persuade people to believe in a concept that has a less trickling effect on activism or advocacy. However, some social media commentators have a contrary view of his positions and how inappropriate it is to tag online protesters as naïve.

In the view of Zuckerman (2014), new media has fostered and created room for civic engagements and other bilateral conversations among parties. Moreover, this has contributed less to the decline in participation in local organizations and civic participation. He further suggested that we may be missing the true picture if we consider only traditional measures of civic engagement as the rightful and the only tool to engage groups and individuals.

With all the arguments being made, from Gladwell’s point of view to that of Zuckerman and other individuals who shared if not the same, but similar theories, there is still the need for advocates to leverage the space to suit their collective purposes.

In all these however, there is a pending question begging for an answer: for how long are activists going to remain in their analogue state without exploring other new opportunities these platforms have provided?

The era of constantly driving livid protesters into the streets might be gradually fading off – with new media which is getting attention and results. The time to leverage and make proper use is now. 

By Adjei Boakye,

Email: [email protected]

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