Statistics indicate that more than 13 million South Africans are active on Facebook and more than 7 million are on Twitter. This depicts a massive trend of social media uptake in South Africa. Thus, it is evident that South Africans are increasingly embracing the importance of social media and its value in modern human communication. However, this trend can only be assumed as the beginning of an envisioned well connected and digital adept South Africa.
Social Media like any technological innovation is subjective to its own utopian and dystopian critiques, but history has evidenced that Social Media is a potent tool with transformational abilities to shape and influence the way in which people communicate and share information.
One of the qualities that define Social Media is its ability to transcend beyond borders, without observing spatial distance that exists between and amongst the geographies. In addition, social media connects individuals on a semi-personal level, while allowing instantaneous feedback and dialogue.
The latter is among the distinguishing features that seal the social media’s uniqueness in comparison to traditional media. But, this does not rule out the possible abuse of such innocent yet powerful platforms of communications. Different sectors ranging from government to business also embeds and encourages the embracement of social media platforms into their processes in order to enhance organisational efficiency. Furthermore, social media is also viewed as a beefy carcass for breaking news and current trends from which media-vultures feast on the marrow of its rich and timeliness scoop.
From a personal level, social media has advanced the state of citizen journalism amongst the South African citizenry, wherein hashtag current affairs are seen flooding most social media timelines.
Building from one of the greatest social media democratic campaign in history¬_ the Arab spring, South Africans are gradually realising the significance of social media for democratic benefits. Thus social media has become a centre of protest mobilisation in South Africa.
The recent #SaveSA protest, preceded by #ZumaMustFall, #PayBackTheMoney and #FeesMustFall protest actions demonstrated the role and the power of social media during protest mobilisation in South Africa. Though the impact of #SaveSA’s online campaign cannot be weighed to that of Arab Spring but the role of social media is evident and expanding with impact as per protest action. However, the #SaveSA protest did not yield the desired outcome but its social media campaign sent enough ripple to dominate most South African social media spaces during preparation.
The ripple of such campaign is still vibrating on social media, despite the mass protest been scheduled for one day. Moreover, social media in South Africa is now seen as an agent of public discourse and a driver of public participation and freedom of speech amid political and democratic uncertainty. In addition, social media is also raising the political and democratic consciousness amongst South Africans through different Hashtag trends and discourses.
Therefore, the power of social media in the current South African political and democratic dispensation cannot be underestimated. This is simple because social media revolves around user-generated content, which makes it difficult for the effects of traditional media’s agenda setting, framing or propaganda impossible to prevail.
Jabulane R Mulambo is a young professional, with expertise in Corporate Communication, Digital Communication and Knowledge Management.