Social Media and Civic Engagement: Reconciliation, Inclusion and Community Building


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date23 Nov 2020


The extant literature suggests that digital communication technologies have a potential to solidify social relationships, increase trust, and reinvigorate citizens’ involvement in community and political affairs. Still, the same digital technologies have also been accused of promoting political polarizations and destabilization in both mushrooming and developed democracies. It is argued that the use of digital media platforms can lead to information distortion that contributes to citizens’ distrust of the existing political systems and can further escalate socio-political conflicts, and increase demands for regime change in authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states.

Nonetheless, there are few studies that examine the potential of new communication technologies to promote the processes of reconciliation in the post-conflict societies of Africa. Therefore, this research examines how digital media can be used to create a civically engaged community that collectively involves in processes that support reconciliation, inclusion and community building in war torn or conflict prone regions. The use of social media in reconciling war torn or conflict prone regions in Uganda is based on the increased evidence of online engagement in Africa. This multi-method investigation utilizes a wide repertoire of primary data collected on different research sites in Uganda. The study encompasses both qualitative and quantitative methods, such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and social network analysis. Four research questions were examined.

First, I analyzed the type of social media discussions that support deliberative processes that deescalate social conflict or prejudice. The findings show that social media discussions characterized by two major aspects of persuasiveness and political knowledgeability supported deliberative processes that deescalate or resolve social conflict or prejudice in society. Second, I looked at the type of conflicts resolved through social media platforms. The results show that conflicts that resulted from religious, political and ethnic incompatibilities could potentially be resolved as witnessed by an increase in inter-faith, inter-ethnic and political tolerance. It was also observed that social media platforms were also used in gradually resolving sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) conflicts.

Third question examined the conditions that should exist for social media platforms to be used as inclusive tools for reconciliatory interpersonal communications. Findings evidenced political knowledge, educational levels and uniformity in social media designs. In particular, political knowledgeability enabled social media users to offer multiple perspectives which supported an idea in discussed and enabled users to think of multiple ways in which they were able to explain their position on an issue, and being able to persuade those involved in a discussion.

In context of the study, social media platforms were observed as unique reconciliation and inclusive platforms that supported diversified perspectives on how to share or create reconciliatory messages. At the individual level, other than being persuasive and politically knowledgeable, it was observed that education was a necessary factor that fostered social media use, and interacted with the actual design of the platforms. For instance, social media users that had post-secondary education increasingly engaged in discussions that fostered reconciliation in the form of integration, tolerance and justice. The role of education in post conflict communities was based on its potential to lay the foundation for social reconstruction and lasting peace needed in post-conflict reconstruction.

Lastly, the study investigated how social media platforms were used to reduce or polarization, radicalization and incivility. This study’s findings evidenced four approaches used in gradually reducing or resolving radicalization, incivility and polarization. These were deletion approach, smoke detector approach, social influencer and reciprocal approach. This study’s key contribution is in showcasing and explaining how social media connectivity enabled Ugandan citizens to civically engage and reconcile despite the existing cultural, demographic, historical and economic differences. In particular, findings evidenced that war-torn or conflict prone regions can be reconciled through sharing of ideas and knowledge via digital media.

    Research areas

  • Social Media, Civic Engagement, Reconciliation, Connectivity, Digital Technologies, Sub-Saharan Africa