Afghanistan’s first social media summit ends, highlights benefits for development

from UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
Published on 24 Sep 2013 View Original

24 September 2013 – Afghanistan’s first ever social media summit – known as ‘Paiwand’ – concluded in the capital, Kabul, on Monday, after two days of discussions on the importance of productive and positive use of social media for the country’s socio-political and economic development.

The event, which brought together more than 200 participants from all over the country, including some prominent political figures, provided them with the opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas and establish new networks. The event’s broad aim was to connect the country’s social media community in person as well as explore ways to grow its use, especially in relation to civic engagement.

In Afghanistan, some 1.7 million people are currently using social media tools, primarily Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google-Plus. Around 2.4 million Afghans have access to the Internet, while 19 million people use mobile phones for which five telecommunication companies provide services, and of these, three provide 3G services.

In one of the sessions, on ‘Social Media and the Elections,’ on the second day of the event, an Afghan Member of Parliament and activist, Fawzia Kofi, said that a majority of social media users in Afghanistan are youth and “those who believe in the value of civil society.”

“Social media is a platform where youth reflect their views without any fear,” said Ms. Kofi.

Referring to the upcoming Presidential and Provincial Council elections slated for 5 April next year, she said social media can help candidates to mobilize people, promote their electoral programmes and create awareness about peoples’ participation in the elections.

The theme of the summit – organized to coincide with a similar event at United Nations Headquarters in New York – was ‘Social Media for Social Good.’ It encouraged achieving wider goals of development 15 years after the so-called 2015 Millennium Development Goals, agreed on by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000, which set specific targets on global issues such as poverty alleviation and education.

In his remarks to the event, the leader of a political party called ‘Rawand-e-Sabz’ (‘Green Process’), Amrullah Saleh, said that social media had not yet found its “strategic place” in Afghan society.

Mr. Saleh, a former head of the country’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, added that the messages posted on Facebook or Twitter are not taken seriously by Afghan courts and legal institutions.

“The people still think that using Facebook is something to do when you have leisure time,” he added.

In another session, broadcast live by local television channels, the head of the Secretariat of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), Ziaul-Haq Amarkhel, said that social media could play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the government and the people.

“Social media is a powerful tool to bring people together,” said Mr. Amarkhel. “It is a platform where people can talk about their problems openly.”

The event was organized by a local digital media agency, Impassion Afghanistan, in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The UN agency also moderated a session, entitled ‘Digital Empowerment for Development: The 2030 Agenda,’ on the event’s second day.

One of the summit organizers, Eileen Guo, told UNAMA that Paiwand was the first part of a three-part project. The second part will be held at the provincial level through the provision of social media training, particularly for citizen journalists.

The third part, to be implemented before next year’s elections, will include a virtual component of asking summit attendees and those who received the provincial training to become citizen journalists and report on developments from their locations through social media platforms, according to Ms. Guo.