Social media in South Africa has been awash with panic, conspiracy theories and mass account deletions ever since it became known that on 8 February 2021 WhatsApp users would have to agree to a new set of terms and conditions in order to be able to continue using the platform.
Should it be taken seriously? Is the 8 February date applicable only to European Union users? And if so, knowing how pedantic the EU is about data privacy, shouldn’t South Africans be only too delighted about it all?
Frankly, the only thing to be taken seriously is what information users have allowed social media platforms to have.
Fortunately, there has been a voice of reason that has been widely circulated on social media these past few days. This has been from Emma Sadleir, who is South Africa’s leading expert on social media law. The company she founded, The Digital Law Company, specialises in educating and advising corporates, employees, schools, parents, teachers, and universities on the legal, disciplinary and reputational risks of social media.
This is what she posted:
In the past week thousands of South Africans have looked for alternatives to WhatsApp and discovered Telegram which social media disciples flocked to in droves.
However, shortly after posting her video on YouTube, Sadleir sent out this Twitter message:
“URGENT URGENT!!! If your child has downloaded Telegram please urgently make sure the location is turned off and that they cannot turn it back on. There is a ‘People Nearby’ feature which allows you to see nearby groups (without joining) with the most horrific pornography etc.”
Something else to consider is that with Donald Trump and many of his white supremacist followers having been banned or facing bans from all the mainline social media platforms, it is highly likely that they will turn to these smaller apps. And will the smaller apps ban them as well or sit back and enjoy the extra revenue coming from the radicals?
Another question one has to ask is whether some those new messaging apps are so jealous of WhatsApp’s massive market dominance that they are guilty of egging on the conspiracy theories in order to get a bigger piece of the pie?
Nothing would surprise me in this cutthroat world of online media.
This whole saga has brought back memories of the Y2K hysteria when millions of people believed that when the clock turned over at midnight on 31 December 1999, all their computers would crash and that planes would fall out of the sky.
I have personally signed up to Signal, Telegram, Sentry and other apps to see what they are like. My conclusion is that WhatsApp has given millions of people a wonderful and private messaging platform and ‘free’ phone and video calls, it doesn’t deserve to be kicked into touch the way it has by some many users.
Unless there turns out to be something ominous about 8 February, which I seriously doubt, I will stick to WhatsApp and Facebook because they’re good at what they do.
And with billions of posts a day flying around the world, I doubt whether there is someone sitting in an office somewhere monitoring all my posts. And even if they were, there’s nothing I would be ashamed of because all the stuff I post publicly on social media is precisely the same as all that stuff I wrote about in newspapers for decades.
Sure, the social media platforms to which I subscribe use algorithms to work out my likes, dislikes and stuff I buy. I really don’t mind and if I did, I could turn all that stuff off.
On a lighter note, there is something I spotted on social media this week that had me laughing – a satirical look at the use of algorithms
Enjoy: Ordering a Pizza in 2022
CALLER: Is this Pizza Hut?
GOOGLE: No sir, it’s Google Pizza.
CALLER: I must have dialled a wrong number, sorry.
GOOGLE: No sir, Google bought Pizza Hut last month.
CALLER: OK. I would like to order a pizza.
GOOGLE: Do you want your usual, sir?
CALLER: My usual? You know me?
GOOGLE: According to our caller ID data sheet, the last 12 times you called you ordered an extra-large pizza with three cheeses, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and meatballs on a thick crust.
CALLER: Super! That’s what I’ll have.
GOOGLE: May I suggest that this time you order a pizza with ricotta, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and olives on a whole wheat gluten-free thin crust?
CALLER: What? I don’t want a vegetarian pizza!
GOOGLE: Your cholesterol is not good, sir.
CALLER: How the hell do you know that?
GOOGLE: Well, we cross-referenced your home phone number with your medical records. We have the result of your blood tests for the last 7 years.
CALLER: Okay, but I do not want your rotten vegetarian pizza! I already take medication for my cholesterol.
GOOGLE: Excuse me sir, but you have not taken your medication regularly. According to our database, you purchased only a box of 30 cholesterol tablets once at Lloyds Pharmacy, 4 months ago.
CALLER: I bought more from another Pharmacy.
GOOGLE: That doesn’t show on your credit card statement.
CALLER: I paid in cash.
GOOGLE: But you did not withdraw enough cash according to your bank statement.
CALLER: I have other sources of cash.
GOOGLE: That doesn’t show on your latest tax returns, unless you bought them using an undeclared income source, which is against the law!
CALLER: WHAT THE HELL!
GOOGLE: I’m sorry sir, we use such information only with the sole intention of helping you.
CALLER: Enough already! I’m sick to death of Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and all the others. I’m going to an island without the internet, TV, where there is no phone service and no one to watch me or spy on me.
GOOGLE: I understand sir, but you need to renew your passport first. It expired six weeks ago…
Chris Moerdyk (@chrismoerdyk ) is a marketing analyst and advisor and owner of Moerdyk Marketing with many years of experience in marketing and the media as well as serving as non-executive director and chairman of companies.
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