While social media is increasingly celebrated as a platform for democratic participation in Africa, some governments are clamping down on the technology to curtail freedoms. The panel considers the role of social media in reshaping political engagement on the continent.
The huge growth in smartphone sales in Africa has seen a rapid uptake in subscribers to social media platforms. The technology enables people across the continent to share their ideas about politics with a wider audience than ever before both domestically and internationally. Activists and governments alike have turned to social media as a new form of political mobilization. Yet while frequently celebrated as a liberation technology, some governments are increasingly clamping down on social media to curtail freedoms. Legislators have sought to introduce laws to regulate social media use, and in the most extreme cases, governments have simply shut down the technology that enables communication via social media. Despite the rapid increase in social media uptake, it has been disproportionally concentrated in urban areas. This raises critical debates as to whether social media is widening or bridging the democratic digital divide within and between countries. This panel considers the role of social media in reshaping political engagement on the African continent. It welcomes topics concerning social media and: accountability, diasporic engagement, elections, protest movements, regulation, security, and surveillance. While focussed on political issues in Africa, the panel is open to a variety of disciplines or interdisciplinary approaches.