The recent invitation of a team of Facebook employees by the Government of Cameroon to counteract what it calls “Fake News” is an indication that the Government is becoming obsessed by the fast moving trend of events in this 21st century digital age.
Whether these stories are “fake” or not, one thing is certain, that they are delivered to the world faster than the Government’s communication machinery that has to satisfy all protocol and editorial exigencies so that somebody’s toes are not hurt.
Most Ministerial websites are old and outdated with information dating back to many years. Most of the existing websites are either monolingual (French only) or with poorly translated texts.
For example on the website of the Ministry of Secondary Education, one can find a phrase as “Hymne National by Cameroon.”
Even in this new age some of these Ministries are yet to have an online representation and website. It was just few weeks ago that the Prime Ministry which coordinates all Government departments presented its website to the public.
Therefore, before these Ministers struggle to publish information, social media has already circulated it.
Moreover, most Government services are headed by ageing personalities who find it difficult to adapt to the social media times.
Majority of them were trained in the 60s and 70s wherein even the prophecy of a social media age had not yet been delivered.
Most of these social media accounts owned by top Government officials and Ministries are certainly not managed by them.
They have representatives who update these accounts and that explain why it takes days before they can publish information on their social media accounts.
A communiqué by Issa Tchiroma on the arrest of seven military officers accused of killing women and children signed on August 10 was only posted to the Ministry’s twitter account on August 13, when other smart social media activists had already published it and passed their judgments on the information.
Their lateness in joining the social media family also account for their inability to be proactive.
Before they could join, social media wizards had already built a considerable following and influence. A key Ministry like Communication only joined twitter in February 2015. Meanwhile, the Ministry is yet to have a website.
Most Journalists, especially of the private press in Cameroon would testify that Government authorities and agencies don’t welcome their demands for information. Public information in the past was only circulated by State media after being carefully edited.
But with the coming of social media, information is leaked every day to these journalists in the comfort of their newsroom.
Therefore, what the Government did not want them to see, social media has distributed it freely. This is mostly done by close aides of these ageing personalities, whose ages don’t permit them to mount a real armada of vigilance.
Social media has also x-rayed the Government in Cameroon not just to Cameroonians, but to the world at large. With social media, no skeleton can be hidden in the cupboard.
Sensitive information is now being traded for free on social media. It is thanks to social media that military excesses in Cameroon have been exposed. In the past when organisations such as Amnesty International cried foul, Government would tag them for planning to destabilise Biya and his military.
But social media has vindicated Amnesty International and other rights activists as everything is exposed to the public in much uncut form.
With social media, it is difficult to edit information. Social media is now publishing what mainstream journalists were afraid of publishing. Everybody has become a Journalist in his/her own right and villagers from every corner who were sidelined by mainstream media; Kwa-Kwa, Furu Awa, Batomo and Akwaya among others can now tell their story to the world.
Social media sparked the Arab spring which is still ongoing. Thanks to social media, one of Africa’s strongest leaders, Muammar El-Gaddafi was brought down and even untouchables like Ben Ali of Tunisia had to run.
One can rightly say without the social media, the Anglophone conflict would never have gathered the steam it has today. That explains why Government’s importation of an-UPC strategies in the 60s and 70s to fight a 21st century revolt is failing as people like Mark Bareta, Tapang Ivo, Ayaba Cho, Ebenezer Akwanga, Eric Tataw .., hundreds of thousands of kilometres away can mobilise, finance, direct and control armed men and women in remote areas of Meme, Pinyin, Banso, Manyu, Okoromanjang etc. Most often, these guys release intelligent information to the world thanks to social media, and before Government can act, their cohorts on the ground have already staged counter moves.
Before the “Anglophone spring” an individual like Sisiku Ayuk Tabe was little known, probably only known to his Manyu clan. But today, the name is known even in diplomatic circles abroad and villages in Cameroon.
By inviting Facebook experts to counteract “Fake News” Government may still not be able to counteract what goes online. There are thousands of invisible Facebook addresses and with about 3 million Cameroonians subscribed to Facebook, the task is huge. Even the United States of America, seat of Facebook is unable to undertake such a move.
Moreover, many other sites are available; twitter, whatsapp, instagram etc. Rather than wasting money and given such experts five-star treatment, the best way Government can counteract social media is to set the information agenda by being proactive while clearing its cupboard of every skeleton.