The violent unrest that rocked Britain last week was one of the major subjects of conversation for South Africans on social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, web forums and blogs. That’s according to Diane Charton, managing director of Acceleration Media. She says that Twitter was the platform where most of South Africa’s web conversations around the riots in the UK took place, followed by web forums and comments on news sites.
Acceleration Media used the online reputation management tool, Radian6, to measure the volume and sentiment of South Africa’s conversation about the riots. One of the key findings was that conversation on the topic peaked on August 9 (Women’s Day) and quickly dropped off in the days that followed, says Charton.
This indicates how short the news cycle has become in the age of social media, with people rapidly moving on to the next hot topic. However, conversation that is coming through now is less emotionally charged and more thoughtful, adds Charton.
Comments from South Africans ranged from the flippant to the reflective to the scathing. Many of the tweets on Twitter were simply retweets of comments from popular British accounts such as writer-comedian-actor Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) and the fake Royal account (@Queen_UK) or links to local and international news stories.
But there was as much local content and commentary, with people bringing the conversation back to its meaning in their own lives and for their own country. Wags like the fake Julius Malema Twitter account (@Julius_S_Malema) had a field day: “The Brits talk of poor rioters throwing petrol bombs!? Anyone who affords petrol is not poor!”
Far from expressing sympathy for those caught up in the riots, many South African commenters seemed to revel in the misfortunes of others. A tweet that spread like wildfire: “South Africa to send troops, food parcels to UK as riots spread.”
Some social web commenters used Twitter to jab Brits and their tabloid media in the ribs for questioning South Africa’s ability to manage the FIFA World Cup against the backdrop of crime and social unrest. @RanaNdumela tweeted:” Why is the world quiet about the UK riots and the Olympics when they had a lot to say about SA crime …”
However, they did not go unchallenged, with many other people pointing out that South Africans can’t afford to be smug about the riots given our own country’s income inequalities and recent protests and strikes. “A truly thought-provoking read about the UK riots! Change the names and places and this could be SA,” mused @ NexuFire, reflecting a strand of conversation about how easily events like the riots could take place in major South African cities.
Debate raged about the causes of the riots. Other major conversations centred on the cancellation of football games in the UK and talk of the British government restricting access to social media.
“This all illustrates how social media is becoming a town hall of sorts for conversation about issues that matter in South Africa. It’s becoming the next generation’s water cooler, comedy club and soap box.
“The technology itself is neutral; despite the criticism it sometimes gets from governments trying to preserve stability. In the case of London, it was used to organise riots, but also to organise clean-up efforts and warn people of no-go areas. For good and for ill, it is simply becoming a tool that we rely on in our everyday lives for information and conversation,” Charton said.