Post-election: online hate speech on the rise in SA

02 Jul 2019
Post-election: online hate speech on the rise in SA

It has been less than two months since South Africa held its sixth general elections on the 8th of May 2019 and Ramaphoria – a tongue-in-cheek term coined to describe the hope and euphoria felt by some South Africans following the inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa – seems to be fading fast.

The general optimism precipitated by Jacob Zuma’s ousting and the state’s commitment to weed out corruption within the ranks of the ANC has been replaced by increasing concern over South Africa’s shrinking economy and frustration with Ramaphosa’s seeming hesitation to make good on his promises.

According to its Monitoring and Analysis of Hateful Language in South Africa Report, PeaceTech Lab – a Washington D.C.-based non-profit working to reduce violent conflict using technology, media, and data – revealed that it has seen an increase of 170% in the volume of hateful social media posts in the country since elections were held.

Earlier this year, PeaceTech Lab joined forces with Media Monitoring Africa to examine the origins, context, and influence of hateful speech in South Africa, the findings of which were published in the report, ‘Social Media, Discrimination and Intolerance in South Africa: A Lexicon of Hateful Terms.’

PeaceTech Lab’s lexicon is described as a “tool, which pairs social media analysis with in-depth qualitative research, [that] is intended to help everyone – from civil society activists to government officials – in their efforts to address this problem.”

Since the release of the lexicon, PeaceTech Lab and Media Monitoring Africa have continued to monitor and analyse online and offline hateful language trends to offer insights into the potential relationship between this type of language and instances of violence seen in municipalities throughout the country.

PeaceTech Lab has documented and shared its findings in regular reports.

The terms discussed in each of the reports have been informed by those listed in the lexicon and the data obtained through the Hate Speech and Election Violence Portal, which is updated regularly.

on Friday 28 June, PeaceTech Lab released its sixth and final report, which presents some disturbing insights.

The report’s preamble notes that “conversation online has been dominated by terms like ‘Land Thieves’ and ‘White Monopoly Capital’ while ongoing debates on land access, inequality, and race continued to be hot-button topics for many of South Africa’s social media users.”

In a period of two weeks, 11,433 hateful language posts were recorded – an increase of 34% since the previous report’s release on 13 June.

‘Land thieves’ was the inflammatory term that appeared most frequently during this period.

The report states: “The increased volume of this term is likely related to the tweets by [South African Ambassador to Denmark] Zindzi Mandela directed to apartheid apologists and [controversial Afrikaans singer] [Steve] Hofmeyr’s response.”

Dear Apartheid Apologists, your time is over. You will not rule again. We do not fear you. Finally #TheLandIsOurs— Zindzi Mandela (@ZindziMandela) June 14, 2019

In response to this, Hofmeyr tweeted: “Dear @zilevandamme and @ZindziMandela I’m a South African tax-paying citizen. Effectively, I AM your boss. You WILL jump when I say so and you WILL ask how high. And when you come to take our lives&land, you WILL die. Our contract is that simple. And don’t you forget it.”

While highlighting hateful and inflammatory terms in these reports released by PeaceTech Lab and Media Monitoring Africa may be triggering to many South Africans, drawing attention to offensive language rather than sweeping it under the carpet may indeed serve to problematise its use.

“One of the objectives of the lexicon of hateful terms is to begin mapping where terms are being used online and how this impacts conflict offline,” explains Media Monitoring Africa’s Thandi Smith. “When you are able to identify where hateful terms are being used, organisations can begin using this data to prevent further conflict or start [to] address how it gets used online.”

Ultimately, the organisation hopes that the data can be used to support South Africans, NGOs, local governments, and social media companies as they work to build an effective response to hateful language in the context of the country’s election.

Visit the PeaceTech Lab website to view their full final report as well as ‘Social Media, Discrimination and Intolerance in South Africa: A Lexicon of Hateful Terms.’