By Mignon van Zyl

On Monday, Times Live reported that a new ‘happy pill’, Zembrin, made from a Namaqualand plant, could be used to relieve tension and anxiety. In less than 10 hours after publication on the website the story had over 32 shares, 19 tweets, seven likes, and two favourites. By mid-afternoon it was the ‘most clicked’ story on Twitter.

The debate about the use of social media in journalism has been running since about the time Facebook was launched in 2004. Is it or is it not okay to rely on social media to report on social issues?  Safety, Health & Environmental Officer at Rhodes University, Nikki Kohly, says that although social media have great potential to raise awareness on environmental issues, “it is quite easy to fool oneself into thinking that just because you have hit a button on a computer or smartphone, that you have ‘done your bit’ to save the world.”

In an article about how social media could be used in the renewable energy world, Al Maiorino (2011) writes from a different perspective, “The problem is that while most people comprehend what renewable energy means in theory, they know very little about the process involved in its production.” Maiorino states that the gap between the ‘unknown’ and the public can be bridged through social media tools not only because they provide a two-way flow of communication, but also because “social media allows (and even often requires) you to use simple language that will be accessible to a larger audience.”

The theme for the 2013 Highway Africa Conference, being held from 1-2 September in Grahamstown, is Speaking Truth to Power? Media, Politics and accountability. Part of the conference will deal with how social media can be used to report on social issues. Whether these media can be used as a tool for transformation in the environmental realm is still unknown, but it is clear that the potential is relatively large.


Nikki Kohly: Safety, Health and Environmental Officer: Accessed on: 19 August 2013, 10:30 am.