HARARE – From massaging big egos and passing trivia to insulting the President and getting away with it, Facebook has offered Zimbabweans a platform like no other.
Facing serious economic hardships and afraid to face the truth about their status, many Zimbabweans are taking to Facebook and other social media to paint a glossy picture of their lives.
It has become a kind of a gate away platform accessible at any time and spicing one’s status has become the in thing.
People are now able show to off, presenting themselves in a different way other than they actually are.
Posting classy pictures has become a sure way of convincing one’s circle of “friends” of a most abundant life.
So, next time do not be surprised to find a guy whose status update reads “God has done it again for me, Zvangu zvaita (It is well for me)” or “doing it big” asking you for five rand for kombi fare. They would have just been jazzing it up for their multitudes of Facebook friends.
Apparently it is not just a Zimbabwean bug.
Researchers worldwide say this is a global phenomenon.
From the United States’ Western Illinois University,Christopher Carpenter has published an article on “Personality and Individual Differences” which states that Facebook has become an ideal platform for people to “literally create their online persona to their liking and only present that to others”.
Carpenter says Facebook is the “place where people go to repair their damaged ego” and offers “a gateway for shallow relationships and emotionally detached communication”.
He says Facebook feeds the big ego syndrome as well asnarcissistic personality, which refers to self-centred people who only want to feel good about themselves even if it means seeking refuge in delusion.
Others need Facebook to reassure themselves.
But, away from the narcissists who log in to show us their new ride, happy home or how their daughter is doing so well at school, others have finally found a way out of Zimbabwe’s heavily regulated politics.
Dozens have been arrested for making political comments at public places such as bars or other gatherings.
Now they seem to be having their day.
Take the office of the President for example.
It has become a see no evil, hear no evil office as harsh laws force many to zip their mouths.
Zimbabweans, from Cabinet ministers to MPs and villagers are before the courts for insulting or undermining the President after being caught saying nasty things about President Robert Mugabe.
Some, like MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora have been nabbed for likening Mugabe to a goblin while some, like a Harare factory worker were arrested for suggesting that the 88-year-old should have died in 2010.
But that is besides the point.
More people are finding free speech on social media and authorities are troubling on how to deal with this phenomenon.
Attempts to prosecute have failed.
Bulawayo resident Vikas Mavhudzi became the first person locally to be prosecuted in connection with a Facebook posting last year.
Mavhudzi made history when he was nabbed by police for posting on Facebook suggesting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai should use Egyptian style mass street protests to bring down Mugabe.
He was charged with subversion for the following posting: “I’m overwhelmed; don’t know what to say Mr PM.
What happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to all dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose. Worth emulating, hey.”
The courts threw out the case.
Since then, there have been no other cases of people arrested for posting “offending” messages on social networking platforms.
Local authorities have reason to worry.
In Egypt and Tunisia, where dictators muzzled the media, young activists rose triumphantly against the despotic regimes using these powerful new media tools.
Locally, the technology is no longer that far off. Cheap Chinese made phones are doing the trick, spreading social media to far flung rural posts. – Tendai Kamhungira and Bridget Mananavire