Soon we'll all be pig spotters

2010-09-23 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s latest celebrity, PigSpotter, has proved two very important points.

Firstly, if the authorities don’t get on with cracking down on graft and corruption in their own ranks, members of the public are going to take the law into their own hands.

Government inactivity and failure to keep promises results in vigilante groups being formed by ordinary people to do the job the authorities should be doing.

To say that vigilantism is dangerous is putting it mildly. Mob rule is an extremely nasty thing.

The second important point is the increasing power of the consumer thanks to social media such as Twitter. This extremely efficient and easy-to-use form of communication has proved to be incredibly powerful with two great examples in just a week.

PigSpotter managed to create a phenomenal network of motorists who are able to tell the world exactly where speed traps and roadblocks are within minutes. And those idiots on the back of a bakkie in Cape Town who poured water over a street vendor selling the Big Issue magazine, were exposed and nailed in no time flat by ordinary people using cellphones to take photos and videos, and then using social media to spread the word to the news media.

Exposing nasty things is nothing new. All over the world, the man and the woman in the street have, for years now, been using cellphones and social media to expose all sorts of nasty things and also to beat the news media to the scene. The bombings in London a few years ago were graphically recorded on social media by people on the scene.

Governments that censor their media are losing the battle because it is virtually impossible to stop cellphone users from telling the world what is going on. Except, of course, by completely banning the Internet, which would have a devastating effect on the economy because today, without the Internet governments and business simply could not function.

People behind things like Pig­Spotter don’t start these things as money-making businesses. They start them out of sheer frustration at being ripped off by what they see as gangsters masquerading as authorities.

Often they completely overreact. Like PigSpotter who has now, mercifully, agreed to stop exposing the locations of police roadblocks.

Social media are going to grow like topsy the world over. South Africa included. In fact, conventional news media will now happily admit that by far the majority of their stories come from ordinary people tipping them off.

Most radio and TV news stations now have specific websites to which people can send video material, photographs and leads.

We are, I believe, already in an era of people-power. Companies know that by annoying just one customer, their reputations can potentially be shot to pieces as that one customer starts tweeting about bad service. From then on, it’s like a snowball and in no time thousands, tens of thousands and sometimes million of others get to hear about it.

It’s powerful and credible. And, as I have said before, of all the publicity we got from the World Cup this year, the most effective was on social media, sent out by the players to their millions of fans.

All of which makes me chuckle at the thought of people in this country genuinely believing that something like a Media Appeals Tribunal or the Protection of Information Bill will prevent the public from accessing news.

The most powerful form of communication ever by humankind lies in social media. It is first-hand, it is straight from the shoulder and it is unstoppable.

And no government, no celebrity, no one is safe. Wherever you are, whatever you do and whatever you say, be careful because it only takes one non-descript person with a tiny cellphone to expose you.

It’s also bloody dangerous and by no means perfect.

In the right hands it brings justice, but in the wrong hands it is like giving a loaded rocket launcher to a toddler and letting him or her play with the trigger.

— News

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