KAMPALA – Social media is now a ubiquitous part of our society. On average, adult Ugandans pick up their cellphones 58 times a day, and spend roughly three hours for every 24 on their mobile devices, according to a 2019 study.
For teens, that number on average rises to seven hours a day, according to a separate study conducated by CIPESA in 2019. Sixty percent of Uganda’s population has access to a cellphone. Although social media penetration is still relatively low, it’s growing rapidly, with a 27% increase between April 2019 and January 2020.
Eighty percent of Uganda’s population is under 30. The demographics of social media usage are biased towards the young. Multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and mental mealth chalanges including an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.
Available data links social media to negative experiences such as: Inadequacy about life or appearance.
Experts at the Uganda Social Media Conference opening Wednesday August 25, for two days will exhaustively discuss the effect that the online culture is having on youth mental health.
The Uganda Social Media Conference is an annual convening organized by the Uganda country office of The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Uganda, aiming to bring together key stakeholders from the government, civil society, academia, researchers, policy-makers, and the media for a constructive exchange on the impact of social media on state and society —highlighting both, opportunities and challenges it brings.
The impact of social media on mental health will be discussed by Dr Paul Kasenene, a Wellness and Nutrition Specialist, Dr. Okello Ayen the Director Public Health & Environment at KCCA and Dr. Benedict Akimana, a Psychiatrist at Butabika Hospital.
Other experts according to the lineup seen by PML Daily include Claire Ledu who is the Cooperation Attache at the French Embassy in Kampala and feminist writer, lawyer and activist Tricia Bigirwa.
Ms. Anna Reismann KAS Country Director for Uganda and South Sudan says the conference now in its 6th edition will bring together stakeholders to discuss the role of social media in Africa and globally, mobile technology, big data, and digital innovation.
Reismann adds that the conference will promote the exchange of ideas, networking, and collaboration on the topics of citizen engagement, political campaigning, misinformation, political polarization among other emerging topics.
Away from social media and mental health, several other key topics have been lined up for discussion including Social media & elections in Africa, Citizen journalism vs digital newsrooms, Digital diplomacy, Tackling emerging digital threats, The rise of global social movements & social media, and Re-framing the climate change agenda on social media.
Also among the topics that will be covered at the conference will be how to tackle the crisis of state surveillance, digital privacy, data protection, and the gig economy; which is currently a major source of income for a majority of youths in urban centers
Internet shutdowns by African governments will too be discussed with a major focus on the recent occurrence during the Uganda general elections in January, and internet restrictions in the neighboring Tanzania.
Mr. Nicholas Opolot, KAS Uganda Programme Officer at a recent virtual engagement with reporters said the conference will be hosted in a hybrid format to ensure effective interaction between online and onsite participants.