Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

The online world is not the story of South Africa

We live in an age where real-time information is very accessible owing to the internet and social media networks. We hear people’s opinions on almost every major story as it happens as can be witnessed in the coverage of the Oscar Pistorius case. This has led to the increasing reference of social media networks in South African media. The Jessica Leandra saga is but one example of how something on the networks reached the online, print and broadcast media. “Twitter outrage” is the current favourite in headlines. It is clear that the way content is found and shared has been forever changed.

This comes as no surprise. Thanks to social media people are able to express themselves in real-time on breaking news. This has however led to many referring to the predominant topics discussed on the social networks as national discussions. As with Jacob Zuma’s perceived dog “faux pas”, some were admonished for making dogs the “national” topic of discussion when the nation faced severe problems such as poverty and a failing education system. And this is something that continues to happen quite frequently.

In my opinion though this is very problematic. Lest we forget as recently as May 2012 internet penetration in South Africa was found to only be nearing 20%, almost double a previous estimate, according to findings by research firm World Wide Worx and the Howzit MSN online portal. This was largely attributed to “the spread of smartphones and ordinary cell-phones with internet connectivity”.

What this means is that, in a country of 52 million people, only 7.9 million have access to the internet. Of this number, 2.4 million rely solely on a cell-phone for internet access. Despite the continued growth, it is still a very small number of people with internet access.

The current figures of social media network users, suggest that this number may have grown since the above mentioned study was released. Facebook takes the lead with more than 6.1 million users in the country, with LinkedIn having 2.2 million users. Twitter comes next with 1.1 million registered South African users of who 405 000 are active. The relatively “new” kid on the block, Google Plus has almost half a million South African users. The numbers make it clear that despite the possible growth in the number of people able to access the internet, the number of users still remains relatively low.

Considering that many of my Twitter followers are also LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends and are also in my Google Plus circles, I find it safe to assume that a large number of social media networks are being used by the same users. Meaning we have the same voices repeating themselves.

Considering all this, it is seems misguided that what dominates the social media networks is seen to be the dominating narrative of the country. What this leads to is that a certain sect — mostly an elite sect — of South African society dominating the narrative of the country, which only serves to further marginalise the already marginalised.

If indeed we are serious about increasing South African voices and really understanding the issues of the majority of South African citizens, not only will we stop accepting the views of a few as the dominant narrative but we will also strive to be advocates for universal access for all South Africans.

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  • 9 Responses to “The online world is not the story of South Africa”

    1. Mr. Direct #

      So, a certain group of people have a voice, and decisions are made based on those voices that impact the WHOLE of South Africa, even though whole sections of society are not able to voice their opinion at all.

      You could apply the exact same principle to the ANC party elections in Manguang in December. In this case, it was even more important than what story runs in the front page of the newspaper.

      February 22, 2013 at 4:36 pm
    2. Sterling Ferguson #

      @Moeti, very good article because most of the people in Africa don’t have access to electricity to use the online. Many people in Africa can hardly buy food to eat with and can’t even charge their cell phones. From time to time people are writing rosy pictures of Africa and this isn’t the reality of Africa.

      February 23, 2013 at 12:38 am
    3. Juju Esq. #

      It would be good to have nearly 100% of our population on-line. To do that we will need a long term sustainable economy that provides jobs for all to afford to go on-line, and a good education system so all have computer skills. Does anyone offer a practical national plan so this can be achieved?

      However, if it were not for going on-line, many of us elitists would not know about the Marikana massacre, the De Doorns protests and service delivery protests in townships. They are also a dominant narrative on-line.

      Maybe the elitists know more about what happens at grassroots level than grassroots people know what happens at elite government levels where the strings are being pulled.

      February 23, 2013 at 9:56 am
    4. bernpm #

      Your article seems to loose credibility when considering your manipulation of the number material and subsequent derived conclusions.

      Many home “internet connections” serve more than one person (up to 5 seems a good guess).
      Many Facebook members have Linked-in and/or Twitter connections. Many members of said systems have more than one connection under a different name.

      “Considering all this, it is seems misguided that what dominates the social media networks is seen to be the dominating narrative of the country.”

      Describing the content of “social networks” as a flow of “social gossip” would be a good start for further investigation into the social value of it.
      Consider it an “opinion making” mechanism for the brainless excitement or amusement seeking members of society.

      February 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm
    5. The Village Idiot #

      It is also important to bear in mind how our own preconceptions play a role in determining what (we think!) happened. We’re spewing prejudices and explanations, often without any substantial basis in factual reality. Take Marikana, Pistorius, de Doorns, the violence of 2008. This is even true of many a journalist, so it would be foolish to assume that your average internet connected South African is less biased.

      Sometimes our preconceptions may approximate truth. Other times they will be way off the mark. It also gives a lot of people a sort of confirmation bias. Just as your average Black South African won’t be looking at the AWB website for news, your average White or Coloured person won’t be using the Isolezwe news service. This can lead to people to assume that everyone is in agreement with everyone, except for whatever outside group.

      This only leads to othering other groups (whether they are Whites, Governments, Blacks, men or women, etc), which can even further undermine civil society.

      At best social media are a mixed blessing.

      February 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm
    6. Suntosh Pillay

      Good topic.

      Part of the problem – lazy journalists.

      Almost every major news article makes reference to Facebook or Twitter, and “research” gets reduced to an online search of a Wikipedia reference. Desktop journalism may be eroding actual fact-finding by going to locations or speaking to relevant sources.

      February 23, 2013 at 3:56 pm
    7. Checking #

      Good points, but your data is more than year old and misquotes the research, which can undermine your argument as people look for holes in it. Internet penetration was at 8.5m end of 2011, 11.2m end 2012. Twitter was 2.4m in August. And all are rising fast. It is clearly penetrating the population rapidly.

      February 24, 2013 at 10:16 am
    8. Checking #

      Good points, but your data is more than year old and misquotes the research, which can undermine your argument as people look for holes in it. Internet penetration was at 8.5m end of 2011, 11.2m end 2012. Twitter was 2.4m in August. And all are rising fast. It is clearly penetrating the population rapidly, so one has to use the latest stats possible to be seen as understanding the environment.

      February 24, 2013 at 10:17 am
    9. The Naked Worker #

      @The Village Idiot

      I liked your whole comment, in particular “This only leads to othering other groups (whether they are Whites, Governments, Blacks, men or women, etc), which can even further undermine civil society.”

      Othering others has always been a problem, but personally I feel going online and the social networks and blogs have helped break that down to some extent. There will always be those who seek information to substantiate their views as opposed to try and find out the truth.

      February 24, 2013 at 10:29 am

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