Afghanistan held its first social media summit this week in Kabul, the first in a three-part project. The summit – entitled “Paiwand,” meaning “connection” in Dari – was organized by local digital media agency Impassion Afghanistan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Themed “Social Media for Social Good,” the summit brought together over 200 activists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and government officials from across the country to discuss social activism, entrepreneurship, governance, transparency, and the upcoming April elections. Participants explored ways to expand the use of social media in the country, particularly in relation to civic engagement.
About 2.4 million Afghans, around 10 percent of the population, have access to the internet, and around 1.7 million use social media, primarily Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google-Plus. There are some 700,000 Facebook users alone, and 10 percent of them are women. The growth in internet access since the collapse of the Taliban is striking, but many Afghans still live in rural areas with no reliable electricity supply, and internet resources are not always available in local languages.
Despite obstacles, youth are finding ways to use social media forums to express themselves and start online campaigns for social change. A video about sexual harassment in Kabul went viral this summer. Luisa Walmsley, a Kabul-based independent information and communications technology sector and business development consultant who was a panelist at Paiwand said, “young educated Afghans see the Internet as a really powerful way to solve those problems poverty, illiteracy, lack of quality education, and more, and social media as a tool for discussing the solutions.”
Following the summit, workshops in the country’s provinces will be held to teach people how to use social media tools in the hopes of growing the online community.