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Social media: The thrills and spills

When the world ubiquitously adopted the internet in the 1990s, no one had imagined the way the new technology would revolutionise communication.

By Taurai Mangudhla

Anyone suggesting that the internet would be a powerful communication medium with the ability to make or break reputation of individuals and businesses on the same score as traditional media such as televeision, radio and newspapers would have been derided with unimaginable ridilcule.

A decade later, the internet has evolved from being mostly used to surf information on search engines such as Google and Yahoo! to a more sophisticated network that has video and audio-sharing platforms such as YouTube. Now, internet applications permit podcasts which have reduced consumer reliance on traditional sources of broadcasting — radio or television stations.

The growth of Facebook from a social network of Harvard University undergraduates and other college students beyond educational institutions to anyone with a registered e-mail address as of September 2006 to become the largest social media platform with 1,6 billion users as of December 2015, has further eroded the role of traditional media.

In 2009, instant messaging internet-based platform WhatsApp was founded and was to be initially launched in 2010 before growing to become the largest instant messaging platform globally, with one billion users as of February 2016.

WhatsApp has also upped its game, allowing groups to have as much as 256 members, up from 100.

Never mind the impressive user statistics and history of the internet and social media platforms, the common user is concerned about the cost and convenience of communicating via social media. Against such a background, news is sometimes broken on such platforms and quickly goes viral in no time, limiting the role of traditional media.

Unlike traditional media, content origination on social media is not regulated. With no moderators in the form of editors, the platforms have become a hazard to individuals and businesses.

Videos of President Robert Mugabe stumbling and falling on the red carpet after delivering a speech at the Harare International Airport early last year and another near fall incident in India late last year reached millions of Zimbabweans on Facebook and WhatsApp immediately after it had happened.

A shadowy Facebook character known as “Baba Jukwa” became popular ahead of Zimbabwe’s general elections in 2013 for sharing information on the goings on in the country’s political arena. Baba Jukwa had more than 350 000 followers in no time.

While social media became alternative to traditional media platforms that are easily controlled by state organs, it remains a danger to business when abused or used maliciously.

Just last week, the central bank had to issue a statement advising Zimbabweans that NMB Bank was safe and sound contrary to social media claims doing the rounds in the country and beyond. This was unprecedented.

The central bank had never issued a statement owing to rumours emanating from social media. Analysts say this shows the newfound power of the new media.

A week later, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was again forced to clarify the Barclays situation assuring the banking public the bank was safe and sound.

“When I got news that my bank was in trouble and could go under curatorship, I rushed there to withdraw all my money. Right now it’s under my carpet and I won’t trust any other bank until everything is settled,” a 23-year-old company administrator, Kaycee Chiseve, said.

Chiseve told businessdigest during a snap survey after social media spread a message warning NMB customers to withdraw their funds from the bank on grounds the institution was in trouble and could be put under curatorship.

“I graduated last year. This is my first year working and I have seen a number of banks going under and my parents lost money in one of them. I know what this means and I am not taking chances with my little savings,” said Chiseve.

Another depositor, Munashe Chiri, said social media has become a reliable source of information for her.
“I use WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Skype a lot especially when I have free internet and I believe whatever I read on these platforms to the extent that I will react for my safety before verifying anything because it takes long to verify anything in Zimbabwe. In any case, you would have lost a lot by the time you verify that a bank is collapsing,” Chiri said.
Chiseve and Chiri are just a small sample of the thousands of NMB customers who panicked and took various measures, including withdrawing all their funds or questioning management about the fate of the bank upon receiving what was soon to be described as a social media hoax.
The message read: “To those who have NMB accounts and haven’t heard the news I advise that you move your money as soon as is humanly possible. Got a tip from a senior manager that it is to go under curatorship.”

NMB was forced to respond, pleading with clients to ignore the message which they said was malicious.

The RBZ was also quick to reassure the market, NMB remains on a sound footing.

“The RBZ wishes to re-assure the public that NMB is not facing any liquidity challenges and there is no threat of curatorship or liquidation as alleged,” RBZ governor John Mangudya said in a statement. “Members of the public are therefore advised to ignore any misleading statements from unauthorised and uninformed persons on the status of banking institutions or the banking sector. The Reserve Bank is the sole is the sole superintendent of the banking sector in Zimbabwe, and any information on the condition of banks, other than published by the banking institution itself, should come from the RBZ.”

This is just some examples of how social media, despite its different benefits, has become a danger to business mostly if abused or used maliciously.

Within the same week, news that Barclays Bank was leaving Zimbabwe filtered through mainstream media and social networks, prompting some depositors to withdraw their cash from the bank.

On Tuesday, March 1 2016, Barclays PLC announced Barclays Bank Zimbabwe would be transferred to Barclays non-core division, with an intention to sell it in the future.

“Following the decision not to combine Barclays Bank Zimbabwe with Barclays Africa Group Limited, the business is no longer a good fit with Barclay’s core strategy. Once Barclays’ plan to combine Barclays Bank Zimbabwe with BAGL had come to an end, it was logical that Barclays would consider where that business sat in its wider strategy. Barclays Bank Zimbabwe is majority owned by Barclays Bank plc,” said Barclays Zimbabwe.

“Barclays’ has also announced its intention, subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals, to reduce its 62,3% interest in Barclays Africa Group Limited, over the coming two to three years, to a level which will allow it to be deconsolidated from a legal and regulatory perspective,” added the bank.

In a statement on the same day, Barclays Plc. said: “We are leveraging the track record and expertise of our non-core management team by making a one-time expansion of the non-core perimeter with further businesses we plan to exit over 2016 and 2017, principally those from the Investment Bank recently announced, our Egypt and Zimbabwe businesses (which are not owned by BAGL), our Southern European cards businesses and our Asian Wealth business.”

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