There has been a recent surge in social media use in many developing countries. In fact, a recent study found that more and more Twitter users are coming from developing countries than developed countries. Of the five countries with the most active Twitter members, only two, UK and US, are developed. Social media acts as an important aid in the development of these countries, and many are already using sites like Twitter to report on crime, organize protests, and benefit citizens from all economic backgrounds.
The sudden surge in usage can mostly be attributed to cell phones. In the cities of like Mexico and Brazil, at home internet is unaffordable to a large percentage of the urban population. Thus, the shift from mostly accessing sites like Facebook or Twitter from home computers to accessing them through applications on cell phones has really helped these countries establish themselves as social media savvy.
The fact that most of the population in countries like Mexico, Kenya, and Brazil are accessing the internet on their mobile phones calls for easy access to officials. In order to keep up with the citizens of Mexico City, mayor Miguel Mancera operates a Twitter page in which he post breaking updates that may impact his followers. He is also quick to answer complaints, questions, or suggestions the people of Mexico City may have directly through a Twitter reply. For example, Mancera will post screenshots of traffic cameras, urging commuters to seek other ways to travel, ultimately easing problems as soon as he catches wind of them.
In Kenya, 99% of Internet users are accessing through a mobile device. Village chief Francis Kariuki utilizes this information, and tailors his Twitter account to report current crimes to his followers. Though many people in his village do not own smartphones, they subscribe to Kariuki’s Twitter feed through text message notifications, and it gets forwarded through SMS as well as through Twitter. Often, Kariuki will tweet about farmers’ missing livestock, giving people of lower economic status a chance to benefit from social media even if they do not have internet access.
Young citizens of Kenya also use hashtags like #KOT, which stands for Kenyans on Twitter to participate in important discussions, or simply just to reach one another under urgent circumstances.
Twitter has also helped spread the word about revolutions in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. In December 2011, a revolution against a repressing government broke out in the city of Sidi Bouzid. At the time, many citizens of Tunisia did not have access to the internet because of government censorship, but that didn’t stop them from recording protests and police violence on mobile phones. For the activists, journalists, and citizens who did have internet access, Twitter was one of the only platforms they could get on that would inform people of what was going on. Because the government blocked access to YouTube, A Netherlands based blog, Nawaat, would obtain these videos and create an archive under the same hashtag as Tunisian tweets, #sidibouzid, to share globally.
Social media gives citizens and officials of the developing world the opportunity to communicate both within their communities, and to insert themselves into global conversations. Mobile phones, SMS alerts, and global media sources allow even lower economic classes and communities with strict internet access to get their issues addressed and stay informed.