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Manto & Facebook

Does Facebook play a part in politics (governmental, not corporate :-)? Of course!

The Sunday Times in South Africa released a front page report yesterday on the South African Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Over and above the fact that Manto is 66 years old and should probably retire anyway, there are calls from almost every opposition party (to the ANC) in South Africa to have her fired for gross misconduct, including obtaining a donor liver and being convicted of theft back in 1976. The politics involved here are insane, and I’m not going to rehash the story, which is also on News24.

What role does Facebook play in this? Well, surprise surprise, there is a Facebook Group adding to the chorus that government should fire Manto.

This group was started just six hours ago and already has nearly 200 members. I’d love to see how much support is lent to this group, and if it has any impact on the outcome as a result of a public-opinion uprising online. I am almost willing to bet that the media will add the Facebook angle to the story later this week and publish some of the comments from there.

The social revolution that is Facebook and other online networks means citizens can no longer be shut up by censoring newspapers or by an obstinate government. Here, groups of people are bandying together online and forming opinion groups with relatively little effort. Everyone has a voice and government officials are finally becoming accountable to the people and the voice of the people, not only the media. The lines are blurring, and in a few years’ time we are going to find that transparency within government will increase massively in order to adapt to the threat of “social media retaliation” … there, I just coined a new phrase!

To be a public servant is exactly that: being a SERVANT. Right now, there are people in government who take the positions as though they become lords, and not servants, and surely as an evolved society, that is totally unacceptable.

Join me in having your voice heard online on Facebook, MySpace or whatever else blows your hair back, but let’s ensure that we evolve our society in a meaningful way. Let our voices now be heard in the swarm of online channels available to us. Maybe we should call it “social empowerment” — last neologism, I promise!

Author

  • Vinny Lingham received global acclaim for for founding a number of businesses, under the umbrella of incuBeta.com, which has become a world leader in online marketing & search engine marketing employing 60 talented technologists and search marketers. incuBeta also owns the initial company Vinny founded, Clicks2Customers.com, an award winning Search Engine Marketing company, with offices in Cape Town, London and Los Angeles.

15 Comments

  1. hash hash 21 August 2007

    I’m not sure if Facebook has reached critical mass in South Africa yet. Once it does, or another social network that can really move people, then there will be change.

  2. Matthew Buckland Matthew Buckland 21 August 2007

    hash — let’s be honest: I’m not sure the INTERNET here has reached critical mass. In fact given that South Africa is (presently) one of the top ten countries on Facebook by registered users I’d say the phenomenon is quite powerful, albeit in a very small sandpit.

  3. Eve Eve 21 August 2007

    Your post reminds me of a section of “The World is Flat”, where a politician running for office in New York was advocating involving all 8 million of the City’s residents to help govern the area.

    For instance, he advocated starting a website where citizens could upload photos of potholes, broken railings etc. The politics then change from one person governing 8 million, to 8 million helping to govern 8 million.

    Maybe THAT’s what the founding fathers had in mind ….

  4. Vinny Lingham Vinny Lingham Post author | 21 August 2007

    I’m certainly not suggesting that countries are ruled ala “Wisdom of Crowds”, but I am saying is that government officials are elected to perform a duty in office, and if they no longer can perform that duty, but are being protected by the “powers that be”, then it is our right and responsibility to voice our concern, on whatever platform we choose.

  5. Ivo Vegter Ivo Vegter 21 August 2007

    I don’t think Facebook will make any impact whatsoever. Two reasons: if the mainstream media doesn’t make an impact, there’s no way the ANC in general (and Thabo Mbeki in particular) is going to listen to a few rich white kids online. (Face it, that’s how he’ll read the demographic.)

    I spoke to Alan Knott-Craig a while ago, for a magazine article I was writing. I asked him about the 15 000 people that (at the time) were on the “I f’en hate the Vodacom meerkat” group. This represented over 10% of all the members of the South Africa network on Facebook. He reckons he’s got enough trouble dressing up 15 000 people as meerkats every weekend.

    Facebook may pose interesting marketing questions, but whether self-selected samples who join advocacy groups are a good proxy for marketing research isn’t one of them.

  6. Eve Dmochowska Eve Dmochowska 21 August 2007

    And I agree fully. And “wisdom of crowds” in not necessarily a bad thing. The elected officials, often due to the very nature of their responsibilities, are often far removed from what matters to you and me. It is great to watch how the social media is forcing politicians to acknowledge the citizens’ points of view. Granted, it is happening on a big scale in the US and not here, but it is happening nevertheless, as the FB group shows. The walls are coming down – hooray for us.

  7. Vinny Lingham Vinny Lingham Post author | 21 August 2007

    Ivo: I do agree, the impact itself will be low right now, and perhaps the media will quote the group to give it some more momentum.

    The reality is that right now, digital “protests” are not going to impact policy – but in 20 years time? Who knows?!

  8. Vinny Lingham Vinny Lingham Post author | 21 August 2007

    On another point Ivo, many industry pundits in the USA now believe that the YouTube political debates will hold the key to the outcome of the 2008 presidential elections in the USA. YouTube is a social network on many levels – the influence there is undeniable – locally though, it is a few years away…

  9. Llew Claasen Llew Claasen 21 August 2007

    I’m sorry, but did I miss the boat? When did our South African politicians start caring about what any group of protesters thought?

    Facebook will make exactly zero difference to the Manto debate, which is a pity as it says nothing about the value of the Facebook debate, but everything about the way that Thabo’s paternalistic ANC governs.

    Maybe one day…

  10. Vinny Lingham Vinny Lingham Post author | 25 August 2007

    Barely 5 days have passed since this post was made and the Facebook group now stands on 858 members…

    The impact on South Africa = 0 :-)

    The proof that people are willing to at least make a stand on line is there…give us 5 or 10 years, and online will make as much of an impact here, as it does in the USA.

  11. Ivo Vegter Ivo Vegter 25 August 2007

    I’m not convinced. Even if the numbers are there, and politicians believe they’re representative, I doubt our politicians will ever be as responsive to direct democracy and public opinion. There’s one core reason for that: list-based proportional representation. Politicians must be loyal to the party to remain on the list, not to the electorate to remain in office. The voters merely get to say “ANC”, and the ANC says who serves and who doesn’t. By contrast, in the USA, politicians are elected directly, at city, state and federal level, and both for the legislature and at governor or presidential level. That means public opinion can make or break a political career, which it cannot do in South Africa unless the party wishes it.

  12. Vinny Lingham Vinny Lingham Post author | 26 August 2007

    I agree, however, I’d probably like to discuss my political views with you offline :-)

  13. Nozesolo Mpopo Nozesolo Mpopo 1 September 2007

    Platforms like facebook are quite good for public opinion but the crux is, does the opinion expressed on such forums make a difference?

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