It would seem that the number of uses for a Facebook account is endless. In a revelation that not many people saw coming, even Congolese rebel groups use the social media website as a networking facility.
Even while the biggest companies in South Africa – Africa’s second most prolific Facebook using country – are berated for being unable to catch on to the social media craze, and a recent study by World Wide Worx showed that only 51 per cent of commercial enterprises in South Africa effectively use Facebook as a communication and networking tool, the lesser known rebel groups of the DRC have clearly clocked the potential of social media.
M23 – an abbreviation of the March 23 Movement - knows a thing or two about advertising, and using social media to connect with its supporter base. The Facebook group currently has 1,600 “likes”, and is regularly updated with news, photographs and even biographies of rebel leaders. All in all, it appears to be an active and organised group putting social media to “good” use.
The M23 group began its rebellion against the state army in April of this year. The group had been accepted as a branch of the national army, according to the terms of the 23 March 2009 peace agreement. However, following a dispute earlier this year over salary and living conditions, they walked out on army life and commenced a rebellion in the Central African country.
To date M23 has displaced over half a million people, and is accused of participating in murders, violence, rapes, and widespread pillaging, causing a humanitarian crisis drawing increasing international attention. The largely ethnic Tutsi group operates primarily from the North Kivu region to the East of DRC – and, naturally, from Facebook.
It is thought that the Facebook group is legitimate, with Morehouse College professor Laura Seay telling the Washington Post that not only do the pictures which appear on the group’s site genuinely depict scenes from DRC-based conflicts, but also: “The language and rhetoric on the site is similar to that of M23′s press releases.”
Via Facebook, the M23 group is expanding its network, and looking for supporters worldwide. Having contacted the group, Seay was put in touch with her local representative. She said: “They seem to have developed a global network of representatives; I’ve been invited to meet their man in Dallas.”
While the activities of the rebel group are in no way a laughing matter, it is somewhat ironic that a rebel group in a country with only 3.9 per cent internet penetration (at the end of 2011) has managed to grasp exceptionally well the endless potential of social media in terms of self-promotion and networking, while the biggest corporations in South Africa - Africa’s biggest economy - lag behind and can’t seem to get a handle on Facebook.