“I can clearly remember distinct phases of the internet access development in the past years,” says Kidus Niguse, a freelance software programmer. “I remember the hours I spent in internet cafés, waiting for a download of a few megabytes to finish. Then, just in a short time, I remember how I moved to hotels where I would order a single drink and spend half the day there. I also had a phase where I go around the city looking for international companies with unprotected Wi-Fi. These days, I doubt anyone leaves their homes. Wi-Fi and relatively affordable data are so prevalent that internet access is hardly an issue.”
According to a Datareportal report on the internet in Ethiopia, there are 21.14 million internet users in Ethiopia with 6.2 million of them using social media actively. That is a two percent growth from just 2018 on both fronts. As compared to global growth rates and within the context of Ethiopia’s late arrival to the internet scene, such changes have significant internal consequences, mainly by revolutionizing the advertisement sector, creating unique online communities for the youth, and propagating fake news.
Just a few minutes long scroll through Instagram is enough to be barraged with really well made digital ads for coffee products, resorts, or e-Commerce services. Marketing practitioners stand as the ones that have the most to gain from the rise of the internet in the country. Advertisements are so fundamental to the global economic structure that even the slightest changes have a far-reaching impact. “The most important advantage companies who have diverted their advertisement methods to center around exploiting the digital landscape,” explains Mathias Aklilu, a Sales and Marketing Team Leader, “is the clear and precise data they can get and the relative ease with which they can obtain it.” Since it is easy to track engagement, companies can focus their efforts on specific demographics. Aside from that, Mathias also explains it is difficult to make changes in case of errors (political incorrectness, for instance) for those who opt to take more traditional means of advertisement such as billboards, TV, and radio ads. There is also a stronger sense of personal attachment when it is a digital ad on phones and personal computers following popular trends rather than on billboards or TV.
“It is a noteworthy trend that Ethiopian Twitter users are mostly youngsters. The participation of the youth in political matters is growing.”
Another change that can be witnessed in parallel with the availability of internet across the country is the creation of niche communities on platforms such as Twitter. Of course, for several years, it was Facebook that was the dominant social media platform. Dagmawi – an avid twitter user – explains, “People tweeted about various things. Every controversial tweet was challenged by arguments that were more coherent and logical than those on Facebook (on average). This tends to separate those who are articulate from those who are not. This is the major reason the people that flocked from Facebook to Twitter amount to a small group.”
It is a noteworthy trend that Ethiopian Twitter users are mostly youngsters. the the participation of the youth in political matters is growing. While the current state of the country might be to blame, Dagmawi says that there is more. “It was partly due to the obvious rising tension in the country but also because people that were heavily invested in the topics being discussed inspired others to be as invested.”
This unprecedented explosion of a global internet connection has put its negative print. Unfortunately, it is because of the recent acceptance of the internet that the spread of fake news has reached an all-time high. Nowadays, fake news and peoples’ susceptibility to it are as rampant and possibly even as consequential as the biological pandemic that our world is facing. What makes the current situation even worse is that these two things – COVID 19’s spread and fake news – go hand in hand due to claims of global conspiracies and fake documentaries. Unless the mass is well prepared to ward off fallouts, many of which pose a risk to nations’ democracy and stability, the balance may tip a bit too much on the darker side. “The internet is like the automobile,” Dr. Ali Mattu once said, “The automobile is successful, has full penetration in most societies. Everyone everywhere drives. It is just that we haven’t invented the seatbelts.”