#HARSHTAGS; THE DARK SIDE OF SOUTH AFRICA REFLECTING ON TWITTER
Twitter and Facebook, as well as other social networks, can be a great platform for interaction, expression and exchange of ideas and other fun online activities. Some are theorising that such new media technological tools are revolutionising communication and society in unprecedented monumental ways. One of these ways is how such platforms are shifting power dynamics and are allowing more and more people access to information and knowledge, as well intellectual interaction that can confront authority and challenge the status quo. One such example (http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/facebook-and-twitter-key-to-arab-spring-uprisings-report) the use of Twitter and Facebook in the recent revolutionary Arab uprising, in which entire governments where overthrown (although such claims themselves are open to theoretical contestation).This links to the argument that online social networks are shifting power from the elite to people, such that there is increasing access to information and platforms of engagement.
But this is one side of the story. Another less appealing picture of the realities of how people use these platforms is often all but ignored. While I have not done any proper research on this social platform to make sweeping claims, my sentiments are guided by my subjective observation and are open to contestation. And I do not attempt to claim an in-depth understanding of South African youth as their identities cannot be understood and deconstructed by mere online content analysis. However, scrolling around can assist us in understanding some essentials pieces of the social scope of the young South African and can be a helpful guide on what key areas we need to focus on in tackling certain, pervasive socio-cultural issues.
From my subjective observation through content analysis I have been exposed to a shocking world where online identities appear to mirror the most savage of behaviours and social attitudes that I have ever experienced. While I am aware that different people use social networks in different ways, it is my view that looking at these timelines will reveal, and particularly in the South African context, social attitudes that we often assume are falling away.
Perhaps they are. There is growing racial and intercultural tolerance, tolerance towards varying sexual orientations, creeds and so forth and indeed we can agree, at least in the important ways that social change is upon us and prejudice has never been confronted more vigorously in unprecedented synergies as it is now. But much like the 2009 xenophobic attacks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenophobia_in_South_Africa) that finally exposed raging xenophobic attitudes that were long concealed beneath layers of social pretence, in which ideas of social cohesion and diminishing prejudices and cultural attitudes might have been grossly overrated, racial, ethnic, homophobic, misogynistic, conservative attitudes that we like to believe are disappearing are surfacing to full exposure on these social networks.
For one, the common language used on these online social platforms leaves a lot to be desired. Offensive terms like “faggot”, “nigga” and “bitch” amongst others form a normal vocabulary of everyday conversations on I. Not only is it a surprising phenomenon that black South Africans have fallen for the pop culture sanctioned seductions of referring to themselves as niggers,it is also interesting to see that such words as whore and faggot are used so freely without guard, and most importantly, with little protestation from those one would assume are offended by such terms. While one may argue that the power behind such terms is dissipating and that they are often used by the victim to reclaim the power and subvert it, the fact that they are also used even more so to insult each other in these embarrassing obscene juvenile ‘twars’ ( Twitter slang for a war on Twitter) suggests otherwise. Under this scope of understanding, I see Twitter as confronting and challenging our notions of where society is directed. We like to think, in liberal terms, that contemporary youth are gravitating towards tolerance and uphold better the standards of basic human decency. But it is here that racism, xenophobia, misogyny, patriarchy and tribalism, amongst other primitive human deficiencies, unravel all the more explicitly.
‘She Wants the D’
There are hundreds of thousands of Twitter users that follow various Twitter accounts that pride themselves on tweeting the most absurd of ‘facts’. That is not a problem, if for example, you want to stay updated on when precisely , in terms of ‘figuring her out,’ does she want the “D’’(penis).Entire accounts are dedicated to this sort of thing and there is no problem with it, ‘after all this is just Twitter!’. Less entertaining is the social and cultural implication of the elaborate existence of such accounts online. Freedom of speech is absolutely essential to our democracy, but with it comes the exposure of the darkest, most frightening and unresolved human behaviours and attitudes that can no longer be ignored. The idea that the woman in question ( who probably looks like a sex doll) has this entire strategy planned to pretend she is not interested in sex when in fact, it turns out, her saying hello is a subliminal request for the “D” is disturbing enough, but it ties very directly with the objectification and subordination of women in the manifestation of deeply entrenched patriarchal frameworks that are reflected through the extensive usage of words like ‘bitch’ and as well as faggot (the latter perhaps reflecting an attempt at asserting desperately to the self, fragile ideas of masculinity and heterosexuality).
But rape and woman abuse is rife in South Africa. What can be learned online? Are there any clues that can be traced on these timelines qualitatively of the attitudes that are relevant to understanding the prevalence of rape? Absolutely. Apart from available resources in the guide to understanding that her behaviours are a secret search of the “D’ and the juvenile culture on Twitter that I believe is underlain by vigorous attempts at false popularity and retweets, the anonymity is another aspect that contributes to the outspokenness in which the interesting opinions on rape are revealed.
It’s all in the #HASHTAGS
Looking further at the Twitter platform there are some hash tags that I have found useful in catching up with minds of the twitter users in mention.
The hash tag #KnowYourTribe has achieved the triumphs of being a trending topic several times in South Africa. It is through such hash tags that true ethnic divides and racial stereotypes are expressed. Here, users engage in elaborate confrontational tweets of why the some ethnicities are inferior to others. Questions of how much ethnic divides inherited from apartheid have disappeared or are are adressed very insignificantly.
#Caster is another recurring hash tag, straight from the bible of the underworld I bet. Inhere, we gain a thorough understanding of the attitudes that local youth’s project on gender and gender stereotypes, often underlain by patriarchy. Their notion on gender absolutism and ideas of what a woman should be manifest through the retelling of crude jokes intended to mock scornfully and humiliate our female athlete for her failure to fit the socially constructed description of a woman. It could be argued that such ideas mirror the way in which our world has been socialised and constructed with patriarchal concrete, in which not only a woman is objectified but is expected to fit neatly within a spectrum of what is expected of her. Such expectations include tenderness and looking feminine. When a few weeks ago, a hoax pregnancy allegation went viral on Twitter, jokes were exchanged in a speed of light. Many were underlain by a reluctance to believe that she, not being a woman in their eyes, could be pregnant. While one has to be aware of the influence of the 2009 allegations that were the centre of international scandal as a report that alleged that the female athlete was not completely female, and that she might not have a womb was leaked to the media, I find Twitter to be a useful platform to gain an insightful understanding of social attitudes on the matter. These tie in with my assumption that such social networks either help sustaining oppressive social issues such as misogyny and tribalism, amongst others, or they are forums through which the deeply entrenched existence of such attitudes and cultural frameworks are resurfacing to full exposure.
I cannot emphasise enough the awareness that this article is merely based on my experience with the use of Twitter and cannot make big claims, nor am I bashing Twitter with no acknowledgement of how social networks can be used positively. But Attitudes that can be traced from online identities cannot be ignored if we seek to get a clearer picture on socio-cultural issues in South Africa, and in theorising about our ‘born frees’. I am not one for concepts such as moral degeneration, but I think a lot can be understood from analysing that which is said from the shields of anonymity and freedom of speech.
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.