Nepal: Social Media for Social Change
The recently published Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Nepal at the 154th position- the second most corrupt country in South Asia while Afghanistan comes in first at the 180th ranking. This poor showing, however, is no accident. In fact, corruption in Nepal is decades old and a deep festering sore which neither the political nor the social system is able to cure. From the Prime Minister’s office to the schools, there is no escaping corruption. While political leaders mismanage the country’s future and riches, social practices such as cheating in exams, spending beyond your means to achieve prestige, and continuation of the bridal dowry system gnaw deep into the country’s soul.
Can social media be of any help here? From Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and blogs, etc, the new avenues for dialog are infamous too for their supposedly fickle character. I have already expressed reservations on whether online activism or Facebook organization really can make a substantial difference in the “real” world:
“Assessing the effectiveness of online campaigns, especially when they are about political change and human rights, is a tough call. It is almost impossible to develop parameters to measure online campaigns because of the numerous variations based on location, culture, legal system, government, etc. But that should not be taken as a sign that online campaigns are far too fickle to be quantified. Even when success cannot be measured or defined, online campaigners have indeed made lot of difference. The Middle East is one good example.”
The effectiveness of online campaigns and movements is difficult to assess and numerous factors affect the outcome. The Middle East awakening is a good example of how democracy campaigners have successfully used online tools to organize and spread their message.
In Nepal various organizations and activists are wizing up to the events in Egypt and Tunisia and trying to use the new tools to forward their cause. Twitter users have formed a group TweetforCauseNepal, through which they collect donations and organize charitable programs. The group is loosely structured with no firm operations hierarchy. NepalUnites uses Facebook to organize the youth and motivate them to take part in the political process. The Anti-corruption movement led by notable social figures also uses Facebook as a platform, although some of its members have taken their message to the public through op-eds in the mainstream media.
The effect these campaigns have on events in the real world in really pushing for change is not easy to measure. Yet it would not be unkind to say that these campaigns so far are “pie-in-the-sky” for majority of Nepalis who simply do not have access to the technology.
However, these campaigns and many others like them have managed to engage a significant number of Nepalis – mainly the youth and young professionals – who would have otherwise ignored what is going wrong with the country. They may not yet have the appeal and outreach of the mass media but the social media’s success in engaging with youth shows that it could indeed be an important part of social change.
In social media, Nepal’s anti-corruption movement, youth-focused social programs and even charity organizations have a reliable partner with much potential. It is up to them to come up with ways to integrate this invaluable tool into their platform and define their own parameters for success because as world events prove, these tools are too fluid to be cookie cutters alone.