There is a wider consensus among Somalis that Facebook (and social media in general) has done more harm than good to their communities. Despite the basic networking purpose, Facebook is widely used as a political platform, tribalism, religious and other topics of minimal benefits achieve nothing more than wasting time and community division
By Muhumed M. Muhumed (Khadar)
Last time I checked, Madasha Buugga, a Facebook Group for sharing and discussing books, novels, articles and other works of interest had 72,000 members. According to the description of the group, “Madasha Buugga is a platform to which the book is a guest and encourages the sharing and discussion of all forms of books so that the individual, the family and the nation can benefit from them”.
Somalis use Facebook more than any other social media platform but there has undeniably been a sense of disapproval of its positive contribution to the Somali people. In other words, there is a wider consensus among Somalis that Facebook (and social media in general) has done more harm than good to their communities. Despite the basic networking purpose, Facebook is widely used as a political platform – some even argue that the present-day election campaigns across the Somali territories largely take place in the social media, mainly on Facebook. However, many contend that discussing politics, tribalism (or more suitably clannism), religion (in a patronizing or controversial way) and other topics of minimal benefits achieve nothing more than wasting time and community division. The fact that the most popular figures with the highest number of followers on Facebook are those who always talk about gibberish and shameful issues exposes the truth about how Somalis use Facebook.
In spite of this gloomy picture, social media resulted in better connectivity for families and friends, advanced marketing opportunities for businesses, a broader audience for artists and rich resources for students, researchers, readers and writers. Nonetheless, when it comes to the use by the students, numerous studies associate more hours of social media usage with lower academic performance.
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Established by university students in 2013, Madasha Buugga is a platform that brought together and connected people with similar interests across the Somali territories. It enabled many to get access to the resources they are in most need of. In reality, there is a disparity in access to education resources throughout the world and students in Africa remain to face earnest challenges in accessing educational resources and information. Thus, members of this platform who study or live overseas assist those in the country to get the books and articles they need.
The platform, therefore, connected researchers of the same interest, writers of the same genre, students of the same discipline, and introduced amateur writers and researchers to guiding and supportive mentors. Above all, this platform compelled some members to take an interest in writing, read more and finally set out on the journey of writing. Before social media, a young fellow with research and writing ambitions in an environment where no one shares the same interest would fail to realize his potential due to the absence of the necessary inspiration and mentoring from the senior researchers/writers and collaboration with peers who share similar interests. In fact, social media, Facebook, in particular, eliminated such barriers and facilitated the connection and collaboration of bookworms and writers across the world. Twenty years ago, Somali writers were few in number but their number increased dramatically in the last ten or fifteen years. Not only social media contributed to this change though.
Abdiqani Hassan, one of the founders of Madasha Buugga said: “We established Madasha Buugga on the grounds that there was no platform where people can share the books they have got and actually the platform facilitated the circulation of books and reached widespread readers”. He added: “Since its inception, thousands of books and other works have been shared in the platform”.
If I take a moment to reminisce about my experience at the Madasha Buugga, which spans over four years, I have a lot to recall. This platform introduced me to Maana-faay, the most famous Somali novel originally published in 1979, and its author Mohamed Dahir Afrah. Similarly, I have met with a number of beautiful minds in this platform whom I later collaborated in a number of ways. The platform also precipitated my interest in Somali Studies, and I believe that of many others, and gave me access to many works on Somalis. Members of this Facebook group would agree that some of the books they found here and read left them with profound effects. Others would not dispute that because of this platform, they embarked on researches and writings that they wouldn’t otherwise do.
Madasha Buugga serves as a prime example here but it is not alone when considered the positive achievements of the social media, and for the benefit of the readers, I confined my analysis to Facebook instead of all social media platforms.
Social media misuse can sometimes cross the line. In Witness, Al Jazeera English recently aired an episode dubbed “War, Lies and Hashtags: Pakistan’s Twitter Battles”, in which they featured a young Pakistani (together with his wife) who became so addicted to Twitter to the extent that he left his medical career to become a social media troll. Unfortunately, many Somalis, wittingly or unwittingly, fell into this trap. Some of them fooled themselves to believe they are making fundamental changes or revolutions when nothing is revolutionary about their social media engagements. That doesn’t mean I deny the power of social media as a tool of change and the influential role it played in numerous contemporary social and political movements.
Social media is a double-edged sword, as the old saying goes, and what you acquire from it is determined by the way you use it. I encourage my fellow Somalis to use social media in a positive and beneficial way.
Muhumed M. Muhumed (Khadar)
Muhumed M. Muhumed (Khadar) is the author of “Kala-Maan: Bilowgii iyo Burburkii Wadahadallada Soomaalilaand iyo Soomaaliya” and a number of scholarly articles. He is a researcher based in Hargeisa, Somaliland.