Mobile phones and social media in the global south
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While the benefits of e-governance have been observed in many high-income developed economies, there is still much skepticism about its applicability in the global South.
E-governance or “electronic governance” is the application of information and communications technology (ICT) to government functions and processes so as to bring about efficient and effective governance. Unlike the comprehensive planning, political and technical support that e-governance projects in developed countries have, many of the e-governance projects implemented in developing countries do not have such an advantage.
Furthermore, they depend to a large extent on existing budgets and external funding which are extremely limited.
With the rise of the Indonesian middle class as per capita incomes increase, Internet usage has surged by 1500 percent since 2000 (Internet World Stats, 2010), making e-governance solutions more plausible. Indonesia is estimated to have 37 million Facebook users, second only to the United States, according to web statisticians Socialbakers.
The availability of low-cost handsets on the market has helped propel the adoption of smartphones and it is expected that the smartphone uptake will rise by 68 percent this year (International Data Corporation, 2011).
Although Indonesia has the lowest overall Internet penetration rate in Southeast Asia (21 percent), mobile Internet use is high, making the Indonesian market a viable one. According to Nielsen’s 2011 Southeast Asia Digital Consumer Report, 48 percent of regular Internet users in Indonesia access the Internet on their mobile phones.
Hence, there is clear potential for the development of e-governance platforms on mobile phones as more Indonesians access the Internet via their mobile phones.
Despite the fact that Internet penetration through computers is low; below 10 percent, mobile Internet penetration has reached 57 percent, according to Nielson’s Southeast Asia Digital Consumer Report. Furthermore, the trend of Indonesians’ frequent engagement with social network sites demonstrates that this is an area that should be given due consideration in e-governance policy formulation and implementation.
The diagram shows the percentage increase from 2009 to 2010 in the number of Facebook users among the top five countries on Facebook and the largest increase was recorded in Indonesia (793 percent).
Using web analytics, it was found that Facebook was a popular upstream site that online users visited prior to their visit to official government websites.
Over 70 percent of Facebook users in Indonesia access the social media site through their mobile phones (Facebook, 2011). Thus, these social media sites constitute an important channel through which updates and announcements can be made by the government.
In fact, Facebook was the third most popular site that online users visited preceding their visit to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture portals, the two most visited government websites. The two upstream websites that were ranked before Facebook were search engines and google.com.
It is important to note though that the adoption of new technologies may not necessarily bridge the divide that exists within many societies, i.e. the differences in the level of access between males and females (Richardson, Ramirez & Haq, 2000), rich and poor (Gomez & Hunt, 1999; Richardson, 2000; O’Farrell, 2001), urban and rural areas (Campbell, 2001), and among people with different education levels (O’Farrell, 2001; Madhusudan, 2002) as well as people of different ages and social backgrounds.
However, as the availability of mobile Internet connection becomes more widespread in the country, the government will need to consider various strategies to educate the citizens on the value of ICTs and the use of e-governance initiatives to achieve better accountability, increased transparency and improved governance. Community and industry partnerships can also support this move by developing mobile phone applications to accelerate the development of e-governance initiatives in Indonesia.
For now, it remains to be seen how Indonesians will harness the power of social media and mobile technology for more effective, accountable and efficient governance.
The writer is a research associate at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.