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When Burrell began studying the youth Internet culture in Accra, Ghana, in the early years of the 21st century, she found a widely-shared fixation on making foreign connections and specifically on possibilities for travel overseas.
Burrell tells a story of a burgeoning online friendship between Fauzia, a young Ghanaian woman, and an Egyptian man.
While chatting online, Fauzia mentioned “ok, my phone is giving me problems and I will be very grateful if you could send me money to get a better phone or if you could send me a new phone.” After repeating the request, “I didn’t see him online again,” said Fauzia.
“He stopped chatting, he disappeared.” Although such a request might seem suspicious to a Westerner, “small transfers of funds between friends are a regular feature of relationships among youth in Accra,” explained Burrell.
This kind of ‘digital shunning’ was a common experience among the young Ghanaians that Burrell encountered; although the youth were following standard social norms, their foreign conversation partners seemed to misunderstand or misinterpret their intentions.
For the youth of the West African nation of Ghana, a country on the margins of the global economy, the growth of the Internet in the 1990s was full of promise — the promise of sharing in the prosperity of the information age, and of forging meaningful connections with the rest of the world, politically, economically, and socially.