Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare Could Learn Social Responsibility From South Africa's Social Network

MXit spends enormous resources encouraging its users to become more educated, healthier, and, most recently, better citizens.

South African landscape

MXit, a popular mobile messaging client that reaches an astounding 40% of South Africans, has an aggressive corporate social responsibility program that U.S.-based social networks could learn from. In addition to live educational, drug, and suicide-prevention counselors, MXit recently added a civic responsibility app, SmrtCitizen, that facilitates civic and community involvement and incentivizes innovative community programs with their virtual currency, Moola.

According to company documents, SmrtCitizen packages dry political news into a youth-friendly format, translating abstract political debates into a personally reverent message. Additionally, users can hop on the activist bandwagon and join community groups, learn more about their rights, and engage peers in debate. For those who need an incentive to jump-start their civic engine, MXit rewards the most innovative uses of community involvement with their popular virtual cash.

"The response was overwhelming and it is very clear that South African youth can, and want to be part of shaping our future," says Katherine van Wyk, a program director a Every1Mobile, which helped developed the civic platform. "Many were already taking part in debates and helping to upgrade their communities, and we’re just facilitating the sharing and acknowledgement of these inspiring young people’s lives."

MXit’s ambitious corporate social responsibility team has more than just citizenship in mind.In education, MXit partners with school districts to provide established curriculum for resource-deprived schools, real-life mathematics tutors for students, and mobile-friendly books for fiction-hungry teens. For health, real-life suicide and drug counselors reach hundreds of troubled users every day.

By comparison, Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitters approach to eDemocracy seems more hands-off. Location-based services Foursquare and Gowalla developed a sharable "I voted" badge for those checking into polling stations last mid-term election. Facebook placed a giant counter of users who had voted atop the newsfeed on election day, and opened up a "politics" channel for politics junkies to follow the social media strategy of various political organizations.

While these projects are laudable, political scientists estimate that the 2008 election election only nudged youth voting rates by 2.1%, a far-cry from the hyped-up boost it was said to have produced. With so few citizens participating in politics, there is much to be done to prod potential citizens in to action. MXit seems to be making the effort—will the U.S. step up in 2012?

[Image by PaecKE]

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