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Rumours and the reinvention of the Internet in Ghana

May 21, 2016

Family Love Internet Cafe.

See below a fifth (5th) set of notes under the broad theme of media and change in preparation for the volume Postill, J., E. Ardevol and S. Tenhunen (eds.) forthcoming, Digital Media and Cultural Change. The notes are taken from a wealth of media anthropological research into this question that has remained to this date well hidden from mainstream media and communication studies. This research deserves, in my view, to be read more widely across this interdisciplinary area of scholarship.

Notes prepared by Fran Barone
Used with permission

Burrell, J. (2011). User agency in the middle range: Rumors and the reinvention of the Internet in Accra, Ghana. Science, Technology & Human Values, 36(2), 139-159.

8 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Accra, Ghana in 2004 (p. 5).

Many young Internet users “expressed the conviction that it was being widely used by clever, young Ghanaians (and others) to acquire thousands of dollars, the latest fashion, or the newest technologies by duping unsuspecting foreigners” (p. 1).

Common internet scam rumors end with the scammer leaving, where “his gains provided a jumpstart to legitimate, sustainable, and prosperous adult status” (p. 7).

Internet scammers describe their activities as stealing from the very rich (e.g. American celebrities with millions of dollars) and giving to the poor (themselves) (p. 9). This type of behaviour is framed as self-preservation, especially where the government does not provide formal institutions for developing skills (p. 10). Interviews suggest that not nearly as many people actually perform scams.

“While scholars champion the value of the new digital technologies drawing from arguments about our unstoppable transformation into an ‘‘information society,’’ they often fail to consider how the aspirations and motivations of new populations of users must be enrolled for this to take place” (p. 15).

The case of internet scamming rumours “shows how users are capable of deriving some novel utility from a technology not just as isolated individuals but in a way that alters the technology for other users. They do not depend upon gatekeepers to the design (such as engineers or project managers) to accomplish this” (p. 16). Instead, the rumours are self-perpetuating and determine how people approach the technology.

Photo credit: Eve Andersson


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