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Social media is a growing phenomenon in our present information age. For many persons, particularly the youth, social media provides the platform to create, disseminate and share information with persons of shared ties. The power and influences of the social media phenomenon in shaping our world today cannot be overlooked. Its impact is witnessed as a coordinating tool for a significant number of the world’s political movements including the political revolutions that took place in the Middle East commonly referred to as the Arab Spring. Again in political campaigning, social media is credited to have contributed significantly to the electoral success of then candidate Barak Obama as his adoption of the technology facilitated his reach and garnered support from many young voters during the 2008 American presidential elections. The social media fad is believed to have enhanced cultural exchanges, created, maintained and deepened social ties in a significant number of social settings. For quite a number of people, it is almost impossible to exist in our present world and not be affected by the social media phenomenon. It has become part of our new world which is driven extensively by information and communication.
The social media application runs on the foot of the internet technology. The internet directs the manner in which communication is carried from place to place, person to person and culture to culture in our world today. It has become as ubiquitous as the human species and almost a measure of human civilisation. Researchers and scholars have divergent opinions of the impacts of the internet and new media technology on our world today. Their opinions are expressed broadly in utopian and dystopian perspectives and cover all aspects of life of which the technology is used. The utopians appreciate the Internet as potentially an enormous tool for good. The positive possibilities from the Internet include supporting the practice of democracy, human interactions, concerted political action, education, etc. On the other hand the dystopians, the cyberpunks and the alarmists, see danger in every digital project even an ultimate loss of our humanity.
Understanding the internet and all its associated technology and applications requires an understanding of the dimensions under which the internet can be studied. Bell (2001) explains that there are three ways to understanding the internet or its synonym cyberspace. Bell describes the meaning of the internet or cyberspace under: a) material b) symbolic and c) experiential stories. He cites Stanley Aronowitz (1996) as providing the terms ontology, phenomenology and pragmatics to discuss ways of thinking about the internet technology. Material stories of the internet technology provide a historical understanding of how the technology came to exist and the transformations it has undergone. Whittaker (2004: Pp 13) explains that symbolic stories of the internet or cyberspace give “literary and generic accounts most notably in cyberpunk but also in science fiction and other speculative fiction.” Bell, citing Jordan (1999), provides an explanation to symbolic stories of cyberspace as the ways in which cyberspace are depicted in films and fiction. Therefore movies such as Robocop which prompted civic discourses over the use of robotics in solving human limitations, and The Matrix provide good examples to understanding symbolic stories of cyberspace.
New media and social media
New media tools, which are internet based technologies and applications provide platforms for social media tools to be used civic discourses. There is often the tendency to interchange the terms new media and social media. However, it must be noted that new media and social media mean different things though both exist in cyberspace and are associated with the internet technology.
According to wiseGEEK new media denotes the various technologies that have emerged rapidly in our present millennium. The major types of new media include social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as blogs and video sharing sites such as YouTube. One of its most defining characteristics is interactivity. Social media, however, refers to online technologies and practices that are used to share opinions and information, promote discussion and build relationships (Crown 2009; 2). iCrossing (2008) indicates that social media shares the characteristics of Participation, Openness, Conversation, Community, and Connectedness are currently presented in the following basic forms
Goode (2009) explains that social media facilitates citizens engagements in new forms of civic participation as they construct, archive, tag and reticulate news stories and political media content. Bakardjieva (2011) describes how blogs, a social media application and bloggers have become visible in the Bulgarian public sphere. In the Bulgarian scenario, the tool was adopted to protest against a decision of the Supreme Administrative Court to strip a territory in the south-east of Bulgaria of its status as a protected natural reserve. The country’s young people and environmentalist groups engaged in civic protests in the streets to challenge the decision as they organized and reported their actions by blogs, websites and text messages. The brief but centrally placed and well-attended civic actions obligated the Bulgaria’s mass media and parliamentarians to situate the issue on their agenda.
Figure : DIFFERENT MEDIA AND MODES OF COMMUNICATION-AN EVERYDAY LIFE PICTURE.
The British government recognises how digital technology has transformed the way in which people communicate and share information at the local, national and international levels. To ensure that the potential of the transforming power is harnessed well enough to facilitate citizen engagement and proper governance, investments into providing adequate guidelines for civil servants to appreciate these changes so that they can operate effectively in a dynamic media environment. The British Government via new media tools and online access is tailoring its services to its public more conveniently all day and all week. The quote below is taken from the introductory chapter on connecting civil servants through social media in The Guide for Civil Servants (pp 11):
“Use of social media techniques is not restricted to government interaction with citizens or business. There is already a range of tools dedicated to encouraging discussion and sharing knowledge and best practice among civil servants.”
Social media and New media in Ghana
Ghana has not been isolated from the global social media craze. Universally, Facebook is noted as the most popular social media platform and is most recognized in Ghana as well. Currently, there are about 1,436,560 Facebook users in Ghana, which makes it rank number 73 globally (Socialbaker 2012). The social networking statistics from Socialbaker illustrates that the penetration of Facebook in Ghana is 5.90% of the country’s population and 110.76% in relation to the number of Internet users. The population of Facebookers users grew by more than 231,140 in the last 6 months. About 41% of Ghana’s Facebook user population is between 18 and 24 years, an age group that can be found typically beginning university education or exiting into the professional world.
Other social media like YouTube, twitter and LinkedIn are also popular among Ghanaians. Though their popularity is high among the youth and IT savvy persons, statistics on these social media applications are rather low or unavailable. No Ghanaian profile or account is listed in the top 200 global accounts. The same applies with YouTube and LinkedIn. Increasingly, the What’s App application and Blackberry messaging (BBM) which are described as social networking applications are also becoming popular platforms among Ghanaians for information dissemination. All the applications, Facebook, YouTube, twitter What’s App and BBM are available on mobile phone devices commonly referred to as smartphones. They are also on other portable new media gadgets such as ipads and tablets.
Figure : User age distribution on Facebook in Ghana
Ghana was one of the first African countries to get connected to the Internet in 1989-1990 however, the extent of use of the new media technology among Ghanaians is limited. This is a result of the underdevelopment of existing telecommunications infrastructure, though in recent times significant investments have been in developing them (Sey 2011). The investments have been supported by a national communications policy which highlights the Government of Ghana’s commitment to accelerating the socio-economic development process of the country through ICT (Republic of Ghana, 2003, p. 14; cited in Sey 2011). In the wake of this policy, there has been considerable improvements in internet connectivity which begun in the early 1990s with the slow bandwidth dial up access to the now high speed broadband connectivity.
Mobile phone telephony is not only big on the African Continent but equally the predominate mode of telecommunications in Ghana. Again because of the generally poor fixed line infrastructure. Ghana’s National Communications Authority is cited to have announced a mobile telephony penetration rate of about 88.6% as at January 2012 with the leading service provider recording over 10 million subscriptions (Modern Ghana, 2012). Mobile phones in Ghana have varied uses aside its basic use for calls. Sey (2011) reports that in 2007 just over one fixed line existed per 100 inhabitants.
Uses of new media in Ghana
A number of several accounts have been given for the varied uses of the new media technology in Ghana. However, some research account that the application is appropriated to business and community development. Sey (2011) cites (Slater & Kwami, 2005) who indicate that a substantial section of users get onto the Internet as an “escape” mechanism to “connect with the Western world as a poverty reduction strategy”. They add that the Internet provides some users with the means to reach people in Western countries who are perceived as potential sources of financial means for migration while others “who do not anticipate physically leaving the country might content themselves with enjoying Western life vicariously through foreign content online”. Sending e-mails, finding and communicating with pen pals, applying to schools abroad, watching movies, listening to music, and playing games are also some other uses that Ghanaians put the new media to use (Alhassan, 2004; Burrell, 2009; Daily Graphic, 2003; Slater & Kwami, 2005. Cited in Sey 2011). Political parties have also embraced the new media technology and are using social media particularly to grasp the attention of young people. A Communication official of the New Patriotic Party says the party adopts a writing style suitable for the social media in its messaging as the technology creates a better communication channel between the party and voters. The National Democratic Congress says the interactive nature of social media facilitates incorporating feedback from voters into the party’s decision making processes (Boakyewaa & Pokua 2011).
Amongst Students of the University of Ghana, the most popular social media tool is Facebook. Its uses are varied from meeting new friends, sharing information on academic work, and updating family and friends with what is happening in one’s life (Dentaa 2011).
2. Problem Statement
There is recorded data on citizen’s disconnections from civic life in our present information society. These are noticeable among younger generations in Western democracies. The United States, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have all recorded younger people’s withdrawal in participating in conventional politics and government which constitute civic activities, in alarming numbers. Putnam (2000) argues that, Americans in the last three decades of the 20th century witnessed much less engagements in terms of political participation, charitable contributions, involvement in community organizations, and even participation in social activities with some of these trends obvious among college students. Despite a withdrawal from offline civic life, studies suggest interests in online civic engagements. As a fledgling democratic state, with a history of military dispensations that have stifled civic discourses and civil liberties, Ghana is on the brink of developing its democratic credentials. The new democratic dispensation gives rise to civic participation in social and political discourses mainly through traditional media. Increasingly, young Ghanaians- a significant number of whom are enrolled in the universities, seek to master the use of the internet and more particularly social media tools to express themselves, explore their identities, and connect with peers. Hence there is opportunity to utilise the characteristics these online tools present to promote civic discourses amongst this group. The study thus seeks to ascertain the use of social media for civic discourses amongst students of the University of Ghana. Questions the study will speak to:
Are students of the University of Ghana engaged in civic discourses via social media?
What principles of civic discourses are seen in their social media engagements?
Social transformation is a common phenomenon in our human life and often characterises the conception of civilised society. A transformed society is one which may have at least undergone essential changes in its core institutions, economy, and the relationships between social groups or classes, the creation and distribution of wealth, power and status.
Technology has played a key role in the transformation of society. Theorist like Marshal Mcluhan posit in determinist theories that technology changes society and recount human evolution from the Tribal age through Literate, Print and present Electronic age. But besides the influences of technology on social transformation, the contributions of social institutions cannot be overlooked, particularly universities.
Universities have contributed significantly to the processes of social change and development. Stories of early civilisations recount the centrality of higher institutions of academic studies in the transformations that took place in those societies. The role of universities has been in generating skilled resources for labour sectors of social life and also in providing scientific investigations and solutions to social phenomenon. As the world rapidly changes and develops or perhaps becomes a lot more civilised, universities can be seen to take on the added role of encouraging and facilitating new cultural values. It is also plausible to see the institution involved in training and socialising members of new social elites. Thus the contributions of universities in fostering heightened awareness of and participation in civic discourses is one worth studying.
The practice of citizens contributing in any way possible to how they are governed cannot be overemphasized. However the challenge to this has been in the sustenance of citizens’ interest in engaging in public activities which support contributions to governance. Evidences of Citizens having less time for public life abound in many countries, despite their resourcefulness in bringing more knowledge and skills to the market place of ideas. Reasons ascribed to citizens having less time for public activities include having less faith that government will be able to deliver on promises, more and more disconnect from community affairs because they seem to find the information, allies, and resources they need to affect an issue or decision they care about outside of the physical public space.
A central tenet of Putnam’s “bowling alone” thesis holds that much of the decline of civic engagement in America during the last third of the twentieth century is attributable to the replacement of an unusually civic generation by several generations (their children and grandchildren) that are less embedded in community life. (2000, p. 275). He supports this claim with evidence that members of this older generation tend to exhibit consistently high patterns of certain forms of civic activity (membership in civil society groups, voting, and attending city government meetings, for example) throughout their lives. By contrast, younger generations (especially the current “youth” demographic) have by and large failed to develop comparable civic habits, preferring to spend the majority of their free time on wholly personal pursuits. While some very recent data on one type of civic engagement, voting, contradict this pessimistic assessment (Kirby &Marcello, 2006), most of the relevant indicators point toward a greatly diminished
Universities have frequently been regarded as key institutions in processes of social change and development. The most explicit role they have been allocated is the production of highly skilled labour and research output to meet perceived economic needs. But to this role may be added, especially during periods of more radical change, roles in the building of new institutions of civil society, in encouraging and facilitating new cultural values, and in training and socialising members of new social elites.
The purpose of the study is to identify civic discourse engagements of students of the University of Ghana via the social media.
The study objectives are:
to evaluate whether civic discourses take place among students of the university of Ghana.
to identify the forms of such civic discourses students of the university of Ghana
to ascertain whether such discourses conform to the principles for civic discourses.
The study will thus provide data on social media uses for civic discourse interactions and make recommendations on the possibility of nurturing a generation of elites who adopt technology to further discourses that affect how they are governed and their society at large. Findings from the study can help in selecting and developing alternate communication channels for the promotion of civic discourse in Ghana and among an increasing youth population enchanted by the new media and its varied applications.
The study is significant as it will support in identifying and exploring how applicable modern technologies can be engaged to facilitate civic discourses which are essential in beefing up processes of good governance and democracy.
Traditionally universities have functioned as centres of teaching and research. In their teaching activities, universities provide the professional training for high-level jobs, as well as the education necessary for the development of the personality. Students who graduate from the university ultimately work and live in societies. The university provides a heterogeneous environment which initiates students to diverse people and perspectives. There is a tendency that students may be more motivated and prepared to participate fully in civic life.
Students interactions and experiences of diversity whether inside or outside of the classroom, have the possibility to introduce them to new ideas and to challenge their pre-existing views (e.g. Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, & Gurin, 2002). As a result, students’ attitudes toward civic issues may shift in substantial ways, and they may become more involved in community service and political activities.
Various methods are available for conducting studies on Computer Mediated Discourses and civic discourses in mass communication research. The most familiar methods used have been surveys and content analyses. Within the domain of content analysis textual analysis, rhetoric and discourse analyses have been identified as probable methods to studying problems relating to civic discourses specifically or discourses generally.
Survey as a research method denotes gathering information from a sample of individuals. Wimmer and Dominick (2011) explain two types of survey methods that can be used for research processes: Descriptive surveys and analytical surveys.
A descriptive survey attempts to explain what exists at the moment. An example for this type of survey is that of broadcast networks frequently conducting surveys of their audiences to identify their programming tastes, evolving values and lifestyle variations that might affect their programming. Descriptive surveys thus examine the “as it is” situation in the area under study.
“An analytical survey attempts to describe and explain why situations exist (Wimmer and Dominic 2011)”. The approach ordinarily examines two or more variables investigating research questions or testing research hypotheses. From the results researchers can examine the interrelationships among the variables and develop explanatory interpretations. For example, television station owners survey the market to determine how lifestyles affect viewing habits or to determine whether viewers’ lifestyles can be used to predict the success of syndicated programming (Wimmer and Dominic 2011).
Adopting a survey approach in conducting studies on social media and civic discourses will facilitate investigations into the problem in a realistic setting. For example newspaper reading, commenting on social happenings on television or radio and participating in political issues of governance, all of which are probable civic activities can be examined in their real environments other than in a laboratory or screening room where artificial conditions are generated if studied as experiments.
Secondly, surveys allow researchers to collect data on and examine many variables including demographic variables and use a variety of statistics to analyse the data collected. Thus patterns of relationships of differences or closeness are possible to be deduced to enable positing hypotheses as well as provide explanations to the problem.
Considering that a constraint to research is funding and costs associated to carrying out the research, the reasonable cost of surveys in relation to the amount of information gathered (some online surveys are free) makes it a useful and widely used method. Researchers are able to control their research expenses by selecting from mail, telephone, personal interview, group administration, and the Internet modes of surveys. Related to this surveys have no geographic constraints and they can be conducted almost anywhere.
Probably a significant benefit for using surveys in research is the availability existing data which makes it possible to carry out a whole study without the use of a questionnaire or contacting a respondent. Data sources such government documents, class or students registration lists may be depended on as primary data sources or as supportive sources of information.
However an essential shortcoming in the use of surveys is the inability to draw causal or non-causal relationships between dependent and independent variables. Thus for a study as this it is not possible to draw casual or non-causal relations between social media use and civic discourses. This is because independent variables cannot be manipulated the way they are in laboratory experiments. Without control over independent variables, the researcher cannot be certain whether the relationships between independent variables and dependent variables are causal or non-causal.
Results from surveys may easily be considered bias in the event of inappropriate wording or placement of questions within a questionnaire. This thus means careful scrutiny of words chosen to solicit data and organized unambiguously would be required. This can be strenuous and time consuming. An example “Where did you hear the news about the president’s death?” is mildly biased against newspapers. The word hear suggests that “radio,” “television,” or “other people” is a more appropriate answer (Wimmer and Dominic 2011, pp 190).
The possibility of including wrong respondents in survey research is almost not negligible. Respondents may claim to possess a characteristic necessary for the study but may in fact be deficient in that feature. A mail survey or Internet survey may be completed by a teenager when the target respondent is a parent in the household.
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