In one of her blog posts, Linda addresses the issue of whose voice is being heard when engaging with social media. She exemplifies this by highlighting the use of English as a language for a hashtag to combat the practice of male guardianship over women in Saudi Arabia. In this post I will also address issues of accessibility, but from a different perspective. Because after all, who is actually able to use and communicate via new media? The use of phones might have spread throughout the world, yet buying units, especially to connect to the internet, may be an obstacle to many.
Morrow et. Al. (2014) discuss the interconnectness of life online and offline moving beyond a binary. So if we are to discuss whose voices is being heard, the material realities of the subaltern, of the marginalized, need to be taken into consideration. Not everyone may be able to share their thoughts and opinions online as often as they would like to simply due to budget and language constraints.
Take Malawi as an example. According to a report by the BBC it is one of the countries where people pay the most for mobile data and units despite a large part of its population living under the poverty line. A monthly 20GB data bundle provided by Airtel Malawi costs me MK34,000, the equivalent of $47. The cheapest daily bundle, 10MB, costs MK65, the equivalent $0.1. Special social media bundles for WhatsApp and Facebook are available as well through Airtel, the main and most popular provider of mobile services in the country. While these amounts may not seem to be too expensive for Westerns, average wages for Malawians have to be taken into consideration. Many people in the country only earn as little as 20,000 a month, the equivalent of $28.
What may help to get people with little income onto social media is Facebook free mode, a watered-down version that excludes photos and previews of news articles. Just how much this can contribute to a true self-expression of its users is up to debate.
How may this potentially affect activism? According to Mandiberg (2012), the boundaries between what constitutes a media consumer and a media producer are no longer clear-cut as new media help to erase these. As a result, many low-income Malawians may be prevented from producing news themselves online.
Consequently, the use and non-use of new media, specifically social media may sadly be reliant on one’s economic status helping to further divide between the privileged and the marginalised.
Mandiberg, M. 2012: The Social Media Reader, New York, NY: NYU Press.
Morrow, O., Hawkins, R. & Kern, L. (2014). Feminist research in online spaces, Gender, Place & Culture. A Journal of Feminist Geography. 22.