The American Library Association defines digital literacy as the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information. A person is considered a digital literate when he / she can efficiently use digital devices such as laptops, phones, tablets in the exchange of information. As a result of the advent of internet and social media, digital literacy has shifted from the use of technological devices in the sharing of information to the use of internet and social media in the sharing of information. The internet and social media are inextricably connected. One cannot share information on social media without having access to the internet. The internet has had a significant influence on many industries such as education, governance, marketing just to mention a few. The prefix ‘e’ signifies electronic which is synonymous to online has been widely used to represent the internet in diverse industries. Typical examples include e-commerce, e-learning. e-governance, and e-voting.
The purpose of this article is to examine how governments and institutions in Ghana have leveraged the internet and social media to bring their services closer to the citizens. This analysis will contribute to bridging the information gap that exits between traditional / legacy and new media users in Ghana. This is necessary to be examined because of the widespread appreciation of internet and social media in Ghana. According to Datareportal (2020), internet penetration stood in Ghana at 48% in January 2020 with a total number of 14.76 million internet users in Ghana. The common social media platforms in Ghana include WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat among others. Issaka (2015) indicated that Facebook was the most visited site in Ghana. He further indicated that Facebook was the most visited social media platform ahead of local news sites and even the search engine giant, Google. In a recent survey conducted by NapoleonCat, there were 8,197, 000 Facebook users in Ghana as at February, 2021. This eight million plus Facebook users accounts for 26% of the entire population.
Electronic governance / e – governance can simply be defined as the virtual or online form of decision making or making decisions on the internet. The key characteristics of governance are transparency and accountability. Government institutions must not only use traditional media such as television, radio and print to keep the citizens informed on happenings in their respective institutions but should go beyond traditional media to include new media that is internet and social media to mitigate the information gap between the offline and online audiences.
Institutions have physical offices in which they conduct operations, so there is the need to create online offices as well to ensure equity in executing mandates such as accountability and transparency. We are in a globalized world hence the use of advanced technology and new media, when leveraged, would attain maximum human capital, specifically time and money. It is expected of every institution to have global visibility especially when it is mandated to serve the interest of an information consuming public. Social media platforms provide opportunities for not just individuals but organizations and institutions as well. Notable state institutions have seen the need of online inclusion and have included it in their operations. The institutions that engage in active e-governance include the Office of the President of Ghana, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Health, Parliament of Ghana, Ghana Health Service Ministries, few Departments and Agencies and some Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies in Ghana.
The Parliament of Ghana is an active user on the internet and social media. Parliament of Ghana has a verified account on Facebook with a following in excess 9 million. The platform engages the public by providing verbal and nonverbal content of the activities of Parliament. https://m.facebook.com/Parliament.of.Ghana/ The platform also broadcasts live parliamentary proceedings to keep the online community abreast with information on bills, debates, voting among others. The just ended presentation of the 2021 Budget Statement and Economic Policy was transmitted live on Parliament’s Facebook platform. Ministerial vetting as well as the President’s State of Nations Address (SONA) have all been made available through Facebook. This provides the listeners who had no access to traditional media an opportunity to be part of the information society. Social media can be accessed at all places and all times and thus admired for its mobility. The weakness associated with the online inclusion by parliament is that, its inclusion is limited to Facebook users leaving out the users of Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. This can be attributed to the fact that Facebook has the highest number of users compared to other platforms. This should not be the justification, as the choice of social media platform is subjective. Parliament should ensure to accommodate all social media users on other platforms to ensure uniformity in the information society.
Unlike the Parliament of Ghana, the Office of the President includes both Twitter and Facebook users. The Presidency has verified accounts on Twitter and Facebook which actively engages the citizens on a daily basis. It also provides both verbal and nonverbal content for its followers. The President of Ghana has been very informative to the public as he regularly updates Ghanaians on the COVID-19 situation in Ghana through Facebook live. The Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service have also leveraged on social media to provide information on COVID – 19.
In conclusion, state institutions need to take a clue from the likes of Parliament of Ghana, Ministry of Information and the Office of the President and include the online community in their activities. A state policy directing all state institutions to include new media in their operations will be a step in the right direction as the disregard for internet visibility by some institutions should not continue as it creates a sense of backwardness in the information society.
By Lukman Mahami Adams|PINs Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow.