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Social Media Bullies

The Internet is a funny place; it’s part news, discussion, encyclopaedic entries, fluffy animals and random musings. As far I think, the tumultuous combination of all of these elements makes cyberspace a cool place to hang out.  There’s just one tiny problem. It gives everyone a god complex. We’re all allowed to say what we want, even when no-one asked. Many of us also think that there aren’t any repercussions to what we do or say online, even though we’re warned repetitively not to put drunken photos, naked videos, or any other socially awkward moments online. And yet, many people still continue to push the boundaries.  We just need to consider the furore surrounding Pretoria University’s ‘blackface’ students to remember that everything we put online is in the public arena and can be used by anyone, anywhere, for good or bad reasons.

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Yesterday, I was on the receiving end of some pretty nasty tweets and it’s forced me to consider what to do next.  Even more problematically is that it involves a student.   Initially, I laughed and thought just forget it.  One of my colleagues however, said I should sue the offender for defamation.  One of my followers came to my defence and was told to ‘fuck off’. And me? I was told to ‘go and kill myself’ (just to clarify, I hadn’t responded to any of the original tweets). After all of this, I began to wonder, should I out them, so to speak? Should I report them to management? How does one respond to something like this?

In case you think I’m being melodramatic, here’s the exchange. I’ve blocked out student’s personal info because I don’t think identifying them serves a purpose.

twitter exchange1

Luckily, I’ve got a pretty thick skin. I teach, so I’m used to students being nasty, but this seems a little different. Firstly, it’s ‘out there’, and you never know who could read it and how they’d respond to someone implying that you’re a racist. It could cost me a job one day. And just imagine if the roles were reversed and I’d said this to a black student. It would definitely cost me my reputation, a lot of respect and possibly give me a criminal record.  And all thanks to someone who’s had a two second interaction with you on Twitter.

Secondly, using a homophobic slur and being part of an institution that prides itself on being inclusive is problematic. What if this behaviour extends beyond social media into something more sinister on campus?  Isn’t it my responsibility as a senior student to report this type of behaviour? And finally, what if I took the whole killing myself thing seriously? There are cases where families have sought damages and pressed charges against cyber-bullies for encouraging this type of thing. Does this student understand the real-life consequences of advocating suicide to others? I wouldn’t stand for one of my students telling another student in class something like this, so why should it be acceptable in cyberspace?

I’m still thinking about what to do, but in the meantime, I thought I’d invoke my own god complex, write this piece, include the offending conversation and let the Internet have its say. I’m also considering posting an open letter to the student to see what happens. But maybe that’s just trying to rock the boat a little too hard?

How the World Will End…

“BLACK SMOKE NO POPE. BLACK SMOKE NO POPE. BLACK SMOKE NO POPE” flitted across my Twitter timeline as I tried to go to sleep last night.  That’s really weird, I thought, why would a journalist tweet like that? Surely, they’d just say that no new Pope had been elected? Then I realised, the journalists were re-tweeting the Conclave Chimney. Wait… What?! I’m not sure if it was sick fascination, or a lack of sleep that made me investigate further, but I couldn’t resist. My conclusion? Some people just have way too much time on their hands. I mean, why would you spend hours (and I mean HOURS!) of your life pretending to be a chimney? And what is wrong with the human race for engaging and interacting with this fool? Are we so lacking in real human interaction that we would rather stalk, and ultimately befriend a cartoon chimney? What is wrong with us that we don’t have real friends to talk to?

What’s even worse, I discovered, is that this isn’t the only Twitter account for some random inanimate landmark. Big Ben also has a Twitter feed. At least with this one, it doesn’t say anything except the occasional BONG BONG on the hour…. every hour. I seriously hope that this is just some silly marketing tool, controlled by a computer, for the landmark. If there is some poor sod out there who is actually writing those tweets, or worse, employed to write those tweets, my entire faith in the intelligence of the human race is dead. Not that there’s that much faith left after Nicky Minaj (I’m leaving the incorrect spelling because I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t know any better until I went to find a page for a link), Honey Boo Boo and Juju became cultural icons for the 21st century.

But the point is, why do we have this inane urge to create and follow fictional beings. Is this one step up from talking to the TV, or having a childhood crush on a cartoon character. The difference with the TV and cartoons is that they never talked back. Now our weird obsessions and fetishes have the ability, and the forum, to get personal and speak directly at us. Maybe all those sci-fi writers were right, maybe the machines are going to take over.  Except that the machines aren’t going to do anything, we are just so moronic that they’ll be the only intelligence left after we’ve killed ourselves with stupidity.  Think about it, we get all excited when some random person/object with a gazillion followers re-tweets or mentions us.  We feel all warm and fuzzy, but just wait. One of these days somebody’s going to sue because their idiotic brother did what the made-up Twitter account told them to.  No more blaming Marilyn Manson for inspiring or subtly nudging a psychopath to pick up a gun; now the AK-47 on Twitter tells them that it would be a good idea, and responds to the query of where you can pick one up.

Ok fine, I know I’m jumping to the extreme, but it could happen. We made Justin Bieber a star through social media, so why not give other inanimate pieces of plastic the chance to destroy the world?

South Africans’ Confused, But Hot Priority

South Africans have it rough at the moment. We have to worry about the introduction of the contentious Information Bill (aka the Secrecy Bill), rising electricity costs, the imminent introduction of e-tolling and continuous strikes and protests resulting from poor service delivery and the non-payment of employees and medical services. And then yesterday, it all came to a head. Twitter was abuzz. Twits were arguing and the God-fearing were outraged – Woolworths were selling halaal hot cross buns. Wait… Sorry, what? Hot cross buns?! That’s the most important issue on South Africans’ minds? Seriously?! Wait, wait, wait… Let’s take a moment to think about this.

We are faced with having to forked over more than R1000 a month extra in taxes, we have no public transport system to speak of, the majority of the population don’t have access to running water, and the government is trying to censor journalists and academics for criticising them in any way, and our affluent middle-class are concerned about hot cross buns? No wonder people like Julius Malema make comments about the arrogance of the South African middle-class. The majority of the country is living in abject poverty and you are upset that Woolworths – a luxury food store – had the audacity to make a product that was accessible to more people in the population.

The critics are arguing that Easter is a Christian holiday and thus, hot cross buns should not be made with Muslims in mind. Again, WHAT?! Are you people completely and utterly insane?! Are you thick, as well as inherently racist? What backwards, right-wing, moronic toad-hole did you crawl out from? Who gives a right royal rat’s ass if hot cross buns are eaten and consumed by Muslims? And are you telling me that you have never accepted sweet meats during the Hindi festival of Diwali? Or that you shouldn’t be allowed to buy Matzo crackers because you are not Jewish?

Seriously, what is this Anglo Saxon bull crap? Woolworths is a company that is trying to cater for a wide audience in an incredibly diverse country, so you can’t blame them for trying to cater for as many customers as possible. Eating a halaal hot cross bun makes no difference to Christians, it doesn’t contain anything forbidden or different, it just makes it available to members of another religion. And surely, as a Christian you should be respectful of your neighbour. Just because you have a slightly different interpretation of things, doesn’t mean you are right. Hell, you may die and end up you were all wrong. It could be the Mormons who were doing right, and then what? You’d have spent your life being judgemental about the consumption of symbolic confectionery?

Apart from anything else, you cannot tell me that you are naive enough to not notice the increasingly consumerist nature of all holidays. The only religion for commercial business is capitalism. Real religion is up to the individual, not the shops. It’s not up to Woolworths to enforce any religion.  All shops go insane during the holidays to sell as much stuff as possible. It’s what they do! Hell, we have even started celebrating Halloween – an AMERICAN holiday. So get over yourself, and let them eat cake… er… buns!

This Has Nothing to do With Politics

By now, most in South Africa have heard about Helen Zille’s ‘unpatriotic’, ‘racist’ and ‘liberally arrogant’ refugee tweet. And responses like the ones below, made me think that she must have really put her foot in her mouth. Surely, a politician who is canvassing for votes in an attempt to oust the ANC wouldn’t intentionally alienate the majority of South Africans by making a racist statement? That just seems like bad politicking.

The problem was, that when I went to have a look at what was actually said (something I don’t think many people did, judging by the reactions), I couldn’t help but think that people’s responses, while enormously oversensitive, were the product of a system which cements their status as a victim. Look, in no way am I saying that Zille should have said what she said, nor do I support her; in all honesty, I think it was strategic politicking to create public reaction against the ANC, but the problem is that so many of the responses which were posted on Twitter were emotionally reactionary rather than critically rational.

I’ve included the remarks made by Zille above, and if we compare what was actually said to the reactions posted above, there are a number of major issues.  Firstly, I battle to understand how the word refugee is related to race in any way. Yes, there have been instances of individuals fleeing based on racial persecution (Sudan, Rwanda), but refugees are also associated with individuals who flee war-torn and politically turbulent situations (Syria, Libya, Tunisia), as well as religious persecution. My great grandparents, for instance, had to flee Russia to avoid being persecuted for being Jewish. So the fact that many South Africans felt that Zille was making a racist claim, speaks more, I believe, about their own insecurities than her being an insensitive racist git. I can imagine what people are calling me now that I’ve said that, but I think it’s something to think about; especially if you consider that so many people were made to feel so unwelcome during apartheid.  Added to which, Zille does not state which race group these ‘refugees’ belong to. It’s the interpretation of the masses which has labelled them according to skin colour.

Secondly, if you look at the response above, in which Zille is accused of labelling Xhosa-speaking South Africans as refugees, you again find a massive misinterpretation. In fact, the person who made this claim is guilty of stereotyping – not everyone in the Eastern Cape is Xhosa-speaking. Overall, it has been through the interpretations of the public that have taken her socially insensitive tweet and turned it into a racially insensitive one.

Finally, and I think that this is the most pertinent point. She is not referring to all people in the Eastern Cape by any means, nor to any one race group. She has specifically labelled school children as education refugees, thus pointing to, what she believes, bad educational structures in the Eastern Cape. In reality, this is just a political ploy to highlight her beliefs that the Eastern Cape is failing under the rulership of the ANC. This is emphasised in later tweets in which she states that if the province were under the rule of the DA then things would be better.

Now this is neither here nor there. I doubt the DA could come in like a fairy and poof the problems of the province away with their magic fairy dust. The problems in the Eastern Cape are deep-seated and tied to many other things besides the ANC. Apart from what many believe, not everything can be blamed on the ANC; they are attempting to fix years of unevenness and broken infrastructure. But the bottom line is this, not everything can be based on race either, and South Africans who constantly harp on the issue are just helping to reinforce the imaginary power that different races possess. Race is a social construction. It’s up to the people to change and alter their perceptions regarding race instead of supporting and reinforcing past ideologies. So next time Zille tries to push the buttons of her opposition, surely it would be more beneficial to question her political motives and ask for proof of her statements instead of jumping on the race issue?

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