The growing access to social media in Africa can as easily promote religious conflict and violence as interfaith understanding and public education about religious difference, says religion scholar Rosalind Hackett in an interview in the journal Social Compass (March).
Hackett says that the impact of media deregulation in much of Africa is just beginning to be felt and can be seen in the mushrooming of radio and television stations, internet cafes and mobile phone stores. Africa is still known as the “radio continent” and the growth of small media—from mobile phones, video films, audio cassettes and DVDs continues. In fact, “radio and mobile phones tend to be more visible in situations of insecurity and conflict or migration and displacement, as during the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda involving the Lord’s Resistance Army,” Hackett adds.
Africa’s media—both large and small—can and do promote opportunities for civil religious debate and coverage, as is the case of the South African Broadcasting Company’s religious programming. But just “as a lot of the religious hate speech propagated by Christians and Muslims against each other used to be found in pamphlets and tracts that circulated easily in markets or places of work, as in Nigeria, for example, now it can be sent via text messages at much lower cost,” Hackett says.
The potential of social media to foment religious violence was borne out in the aftermath of a violent attack on a Catholic church in Arusha, Tasmania in 2013. This led to an announcement by the police that they would arrest those who spread religious hate speech via loudspeakers in churches and mosques, text messages from mobile phones, the Internet, or social networks. Hackett notes that in other African contexts, however, the conflict management capacity of social media platforms is being promoted, especially by the Catholic Church.
(Social Compass, http://www.sagepub.com/journals/Journal200920.)