Sunday, August 18, 2019 | ePaper

Social media as a tool against corruption

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Rayhan Ahmed Topader :
While people tend to think of corruption as starting at the top and trickling down through the system, they must be aware that it really all starts with the small bribe they pay to a government employee. The focus is often on big corruption, but this is supported by smaller forms of corruption. The key reasons that citizens opt not to participate in anti-corruption movements are fear of reprisal and uncertainty of how to engage. Very few people file official complaints because they are either afraid of being punished or think they will be ignored. International solidarity and public support are crucial in protecting those who take a stand against corruption. Oppressors have strategic goals in using repression, however repression can also backfire on the oppressors and provide fuel to strengthen an anti-corruption campaign. Many people express feelings of hopelessness, especially since many NGOs that are supposed to help suffer from internal corruption themselves. These feelings of skepticism and helplessness are the anti-corruption movement's greatest obstacles. However, this only emphasizes the importance of taking a stand. The greater the number of people who speak up, the more likely it is that change will occur. Finding allies is crucial, though-no single person can take on corruption alone. It helps to have some sort of political ally, such as a politician who will champion the cause and can work in an arena that others may find difficult to access.
Social media and anti-corruption efforts may sound like strange bedfellows, but as communication technology continues to evolve and as mobile devices are increasingly dominant platforms for accessing information, social media is ever more connected to attempts to thwart corruption. Voice of Corruption Hunters in Social Media, a panel discussion at the International Corruption Hunters Alliance (ICHA) Conference hosted by The World Bank Group, provided a nice summary of the importance of social media for communicating on anti-corruption in 2014.
The panel members provided an interesting break-down of the role of social media and some stories to back up their claims. Social media, in field of the anti-corruption, serves two distinct purposes according to the panel: Analysis, commentary and advocacy; Investigation and crowd-sourcing. The first variety takes the form of blog posts, legal reviews and presentations that impart knowledge or seek to spread the word on a particular topic. The second variety of social media investigation and crowd-sourcing is represented by websites that allow volunteers or end users to provide information and feedback.
Corruption in Bangladesh is an all-pervasive phenomenon. Increasing cases of corruption in Bangladesh are becoming a threat to the country's economy and might affect the nation's aim to gain higher growth.
Corruption results in grave violations of socio-economic rights, condemns people to extreme levels of poverty and often leads to social unrest. Curbing corruption is therefore critical to the achievement of good governance. That's why the ruling Awami League pledged to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against corruption in the election manifesto. It is well known that corruption is one of the major effects of poor governance. Corruption undermines well-being and quality of life, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable people. Poor governance has a negative impact on the poor. Poor governance is a product of dysfunctional relationships between the state and its citizens. It is noted earlier that corruption is pervasive at all levels of society in Bangladesh.
The Code of Criminal Procedure, the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Penal Code, and the Money Laundering Prevention Act criminalise attempted corruption, extortion, active and passive bribery, bribery of foreign public officials, money laundering and using public resources or confidential state information for private gain. Nevertheless, anti-corruption legislation is inadequately enforced.
Facilitation payments and gifts are illegal, but common in practice. The anti-corruption commission has never convicted any high-profile politicians or businessmen.
Though the Bangladesh government has a Right to Information Act in place, it is not an instrument to gather information as there are no legal or regulatory mechanisms to compel the government to part with relevant information.
In 2017 a Virginia Tech College of Science economics researcher says the popular social media website Facebook and its open sharing of information is a vital and often a significant tool against corruption. Using data from more than 150 countries in new research published in the journal 'Information Economics and Policy' by Sudipta Sarangi and Chandan Kumar Jha show the more Facebook penetrates public usage, the higher the likelihood of government corruption meeting protest. According to the publication, social media serves as peer of the press. This study underscores the importance of freedom on the internet that is under threat in many countries of the world. Social media is negatively correlated with corruption regardless of the status of the freedom of the press. In other words, Facebook likewise helps reduce and/or lessen corruption in governments where press freedom is low.
The publication stated that much of the anti-corruption content posted on Facebook is user-created and shared individually, its audience growing with each share or repost. In other words, social media as an information and communication technology tool allows multi-way communication as opposed to traditional media such as TV and print media that allow for only one-way communication.
The back and forth of communication is harder to control by government censors. Indeed, the role of social media and the internet in providing unbiased and independent news in several countries such as China, Russia, and Malaysia has widely been recognised by scholars.
Social media provides cheap and quick means of sharing information and reaching a larger audience to organise public protests against the corrupt activities of government officials and politicians.
Additionally, interaction in social media platforms typically is shared among friends and family, thus adding a personal connection and therefore more perceived credibility to shared information. Social media was being used to organise anti-corruption protests in India. It also followed the 2011 rise of Arab Spring across the Middle East where large protests toppled governments.
This is the first of its kind to establish a link between social media and corruption across more than 150 countries, showing the complimentary role of social media along with the press in open countries, and its greater impact in countries that are oppressive. The study features a falsification test which checked whether the results would be true for a pre-Facebook era in the same countries.
As social media evolves to be an increasingly important part of our daily life, it is important for continued research to help us understand how these tools are impacting our lives. But people should be conscious about rumour as it can be a terribly damaging form of communication. Rumours are often spread due to a lack of information or drawing conclusions based on partial information or fake assumptions. Rumours spread on social media are no exception, and only serve to amplify the negative effects on people and government
It is now widely accepted that corruption among public officials seriously undermines the quality of governance. Corruption increases bureaucratic inefficiency, reduces tax returns, challenges political legitimacy, and fundamentally is unethical.
A successful anti-corruption strategy must have an effective and politically neutral mechanism to investigate and prosecute corruption, and a reliable judicial process to punish wrongdoing when it is proved. It is rare to find all these elements in a developing country. There is a major role for civil society organisations to campaign for such reforms. There are two main approaches to fighting corruption: the top-down approach and the bottom-up approach.
The top-down approach has to do with developing and naturalizing new rules, institutions, and norms that target the public administrative graft. The primary weakness of this approach, however, is that the very institutions accused of corruption are responsible for enacting change. Those benefiting from corruption are much less likely to end it than those suffering from corruption.
 That is why this dialogue emphasizes the importance of the bottom-up, or grassroots, approach, which requires the mobilization of ordinary citizens. A large, united public outcry provides the force of change that reformed infrastructure alone can't. There are multiple ways in which civilians can apply pressure to the higher-ups.
The main way to do this is by exerting their civic power and utilizing civil resistance and nonviolent tactics. A key part of the process of empowerment is education.  
Citizens who are better informed of the corruption within their political systems are able to fight corruption more effectively as well as develop their own strategies to do so.  It is also extremely important to educate people about their rights, especially those who have limited access to such information, such as those living in remoteness and poverty.  These groups are easier to take advantage of, and are therefore common targets of corruption.

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