Incidents that kicked off President Jacob Zuma‘s 2015 State of the Nation Address (SONA2015) on February 12th added to a growing list of democratic South Africa’s firsts, including the initial jamming of the signal that made it impossible to publish goings-on in parliament via the Internet. Each South African has a different take on the latest firsts, as influenced mainly by our political and racial biases – the 2 fundamental drivers that shape views of the South African society.
If you want to know about what happened at SONA2015, just Google it.
Here is a quotation from Web Foundation’s A Free and Open Web article that should make you think: Governments—totalitarian and democratic alike —are increasingly monitoring and controlling people’s online communication.
The Internet is unnerving to governments that have something to hide, and there are examples abound across the world. Is South African government in the same pool? I’ll leave you to ponder on this, while I share the 4 things #SONA2015 laid bare about the Internet and digital technology.
1. The Internet’s free access is both good for society and dangerously bad for governments
Web Foundation’s Web Index report shows that democratic South Africa faces challenges when it comes to free access to the Internet.
Is South Africa’s Web Index Score good or bad? No fence sitting allowed if you are a South African.
2. Mobile phones have become a key instrument in gathering and distributing news
One of the major talking points about SONA2015 is fact that the occasion’s feed to all TV media was provided exclusively by parliament’s media department. This allowed parliament to control what the world could see and as a result, official footage related to the ejecting of the EFF from parliament was not shown on TV.
Thanks to mobile phone cameras, pictures of the ejection were taken from the public gallery and published on social media.
Indeed, this digital gadget has become an important part of news curation and publication.
Question: Is South African government going to conduct body searches and confiscate mobile phones in an attempt to ensure a complete media blackout for SONA2016? Time and intermediate political events will tell.
3. Breaking news on social networks has become a big media thing
Unlike in the past where gathered content needed to be taken back to the newsroom for proper packaging, including selection of high quality visuals that best captured the moments, and editing before publishing; live social media reporting has put a spanner in the works, forcing relaxation of editorial policies. Key driver is journalists’ desire for being the first to break new stories.
What’s more, competition has become fiercer as “traditional” journalists are not fighting for the glory to be credited for breaking stories among themselves anymore. Citizen journalists are also in the running. In the case of SONA2015, the anticipation that the EFF were going to disrupt President Zuma’s address heightened the stakes. This is why, in my view, journalists (all and sundry) were not happy when they discovered that bandwidth signal was jammed in parliament. Eruption of “Bring back the signal” chants was therefore not surprising.
4. News have a short lifespan on social media
Social media are a fickle channel, with a myriad of topics that are discussed at any one point in time. Journalists would love to see their topics trend, as this is a good sign of virality. The earlier the topic trends and the longer it takes, the better.
Let us use Trendsmap to make the point that a lot is happening on social media at any point in time, and that topics do not linger forever. I looked at top Twitter trends between 11 (1 day before SONA2015) and 15 February 2015(3 days after SONA2015). Here are the results, from earliest day (top left)to last day (bottom right):
Hover over each of the 5 images above for captions.
Clearly, life had moved on for Twitterers by the 15th of February, and SONA2015 was (almost) old news. Interesting to see that this event has created a frenzy of online articles though, and there will be more like this one to follow in the next few days still. See the volume of Google search engine results for “2015 SONA” as at 16 February, 6:07pm GMT+2:
Anything you learnt from SONA2015 besides politics that you would like to share? Feel free to contribute in the Comments section here below.