The deferred 'democracy dividend' of citizen journalism and social media: Perils, promises and prospects from the zimbabwean experience

Tenford Chitanana, Bruce Mutsvairo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The efficacy of digital media on politics, and society at large, has long been a subject of intense scholarly debate. This paper examines the democratisation potential of social media within Zimbabwe's historically repressive political environment. Since the early 2000s, technological determinists in Zimbabwe saw citizen journalism and social media as a 'game-changer' in propping up a democratic project against the ruling regime. Two decades later, and as the country grapples with governance challenges, the prospects for meaningful political participation enabled by social media have remained elusive. The current study uses a contextual analytic lens informed by critical political economy of media and broader media effects theoretical concepts to probe the political impact of social media activism. Social media are technological tools whose role in society is contingent on human agency. While Zimbabwe has had significant protests employing social and digital media, their political impact, this paper argues, should not be overstated. Deterministic views have tended to create solutionist approaches to social media, undermining a nuanced understanding of their transformative potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-80
Number of pages15
JournalWestminster Papers in Communication and Culture
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2019

Keywords

  • Africa
  • Democracy
  • Digital activism
  • Social media
  • Zimbabwe

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