Social Media in the Developing World

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Inequality in Italian Media

Former Prime Minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi with Pope Emeritus

The Catholic Church has remained powerful in Italy despite many people leaving the religion, and it’s ideologies have long affected both religious and non religious citizens in Italy. I decided to further investigate gender inequality in Italy after reading an article from la Repubblica, Italy’s second largest newspaper. la Repubblica has a long history of criticizing both political figures and the Catholic church. This past October, Pope Francis called Eugenio Scalfari, founding editor of the newspaper and self proclaimed atheist, for an interview.

In the interview, Scalfari notes that Catholics have become a minority, even in Italy where the Pope resides. Pope Francis ends the interview with plans for another meeting with Scalfari in which they will discuss the role of women in the church. It seems that while many Italians find themselves leaving Catholicism, they are still affected by a religion that has a history of portraying women as submissive and refuses to incorporate women in its ancient papal practices.

Italy struggles to catch up to other European countries in terms of gender equality. Many critics suggests that the media has a large role in discriminating against women. Italian feminists attribute the problem of reinforcing these age old stereotypes to Silvio Berlusconi, who served as Prime Minister of Italy on and off from 1994 to 2011. Berlusconi has extensive control over Italian media, and many analysts and oppositional leaders claim that because of him Italian media has limited freedom of expression. He owned 3 of 7 national television channels and has censored shows that speak against him.

Berlusconi has long been accused of sexism. In the 2008 general election, Berlusconi was quoted as saying, “female politicians from the right are more beautiful,” and “the left has no taste, even when it comes to women.” When asked about these statements, he disregards them as compliments to Italian women. When a female reporter asked him if his increase in patrolling soldiers would secure Italian women from being raped, he replied, “We would need as many soldiers as beautiful women and I don’t think that would be possible, because our women are so beautiful.”

In June 2013, Berlusconi was convicted of having sex with underage prostitutes, and was sentenced to seven years in jail. But women are still suffering from rape and domestic abuse in a post-Berlusconi Italy. He still has a huge influence on national Italian TV. In 2012 viewers of the 8 pm news broadcast of Rai 1, a national public network,  were outraged by a clip from the Festival di Sanremo, in which two male hosts and the cameraman objectify and mock a beautiful woman. They remove her coat and expose her body, and the camera pans her up and down multiple times. The men try to get the foreign woman to pronounce Italian words, and laugh at her when she has difficulty with pronunciation. RAI refused to apologize for the aired clip. Many Italian feminists believe that Berlusconi’s sexist behavior and media control has left women in a dangerous position.

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Rape and assault are romanticized in Italian media, always portraying women as beautiful victims in need of protection. The media tends to use sexualized or romanticized images of women to accompany a real story of brutal rape. 32 percent of Italian women are abused by their partners or former partners every year, and many female journalists are concerned that the sexist views of Berlusconi have been too far implanted into the minds of Italians through the media that continues to support these ideologies even after his imprisonment. They fear that because of the long standing ideologies of both the Catholic church and the controlled media, it will be long before Italy can catch up to the strides in gender equality that other European countries have made.

A stock photo of domestic abuse that HuffingtonPost.It used for a story on a brutal rape of a young girl

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