There once was a man named Juan Manuel Santos. He dreamed that one day he would become president of Colombia. Nothing seemed to stand on his way.
Then, one day another man by the name of Antanas Mockus came galloping triumphantly out of the unknown lands of text messaging, Facebook-friending and tweeting.
Incredibly surprised by the power of his opponent’s innovative tools, Juan Manuel went and sought the great wisdom of these new and exciting ideas. He started tweeting a little more. He started getting some more friends on Facebook. He even told his supporters where to vote via text messaging.
While Juan Manuel’s opponent seemed far more successful at using these new tools, he continued fighting. And even though he was never a trending topic on Twitter, and even though he didn’t have as many friends to post embarrassing pictures of him on Facebook, Juan Manuel prevailed.
He fought, and just like every hero who fights, he won.
While many may view the past presidential elections in Colombia as a sign that the reach and influence of social media and mobile platforms are limited, these tools have the potential to transform Colombia and inspire much-needed social change.
Just like Juan Manuel Santos used these tools to successfully craft a path to the presidency, he and the members of his administration must continue to use mobile platforms and social media as they move into the realm of governing.
More than 93% of Colombians have cell phones, and over 10 million are Facebook users. Social media and mobile platforms are quickly gaining traction across Colombian society.
These tools can be the drivers of positive change in a wide range of areas, from health, to education, to security.
The government is responsible for using new media and mobile platforms to create opportunities for Colombians, to address some of the country’s most pressing problems, and to make government more effective and more transparent.
A government that incorporates social media and that effectively utilizes emerging platforms and technologies can increase citizen participation, can stand for the core democratic value of transparency, and can empower citizens and the government itself to better promote and protect basic rights.
Furthermore, social media and mobile platforms can enrich journalism by enabling citizens to become active participants in the flow of information and by promoting citizen journalism. A stronger, more diverse, more inclusive public sphere of information is at the core of democratic stability.
With the same thirst for power and with the same drive with which candidates reached out to potential voters, government leaders ought to reach out to constituents.
If mobile phones and web-based platforms can be used to drive citizens to the polls, they also ought to be used to create opportunities for those citizens, alert them when they are in danger, and open channels of communication between them and their government.
The exchange of information between the government and its citizens should be more open, more fluid, and more robust. Social media and mobile platforms already allow us to do that. There is no reason to wait any longer.
Many may criticize the reach of social media and mobile platforms across Colombian society. Many may say, wrongly so, that this past presidential election proves the limits of new technologies and new media outlets in Colombia. Many may think that Facebook and Twitter are fads that will eventually go away.
Those many should never undermine what technology can, and will do, to transform their lives and the lives of others. Those many will be surprised to find that the most effective way to transform Colombian society is through the use of the same tools that they seek to disregard.
Never underestimate what people can do when you give them the tools to share ideas and connect with one another. It might just be what Colombia needs most.
Felipe Estefan is a Colombian expert on new media and foreign policy.