The platform of social media has become one of the leading voices during the conflict in Gaza, with many taking to sites like Twitter for up to the minute news and updates on the crisis. A strong majority have also found Twitter in particular, to be a powerful means of expressing their activism against Israel’s brutal campaign in the region.
Statistics have shown that Twitter users in South Africa have more than doubled in the past year, rising from 2.4 million to a phenomenal 5.5 million users. In recent weeks, many South Africans have taken to the site, calling for the immediate expulsion of Israeli ambassador, Arthur Lenk. The hashtag #ExpelIsraeliAmbassadorToSA was just one of a number of related topics to trend in South Africa over the past month.
Media Review Network (MRN) researcher, Suraya Dadoo, noted that in terms of world coverage, South Africans were ranked 6th in the world in their discussions on the Gaza conflict. Even more noteworthy, South Africa ranked only second place behind Israel.
“In terms of coverage, and what’s coming out of South Africa, the issue of Israeli Apartheid and the attacks on Gaza is really uppermost in the minds of South Africans,” she said.
She recognised the impact of Twitter in giving South Africans a voice to raise their concerns about the atrocities committed in Gaza, and said that users were now able to witness what was happening through the eyes of both the journalists, and those who were being attacked.
Dadoo has based her research on the findings of Tonya Khoury, the managing director of media monitoring company ROI Africa. Khoury analysed the data of 190 million blogs and social networks globally; 60 000 online newspapers; thousands of printed publications in South African and Africa and 40 radio and TV stations in South Africa.
Some of her findings conducted over 31 days since the outbreak of the violence was that ‘Palestinians’ or ‘Palestine’ had been the focus of one out of every four articles that refers to Gaza. In her analysis, Khoury said there was an enormous amount of coverage on the conflict, with over 2000 unique items per hour.
Khoury also found that there has been rarely a positive sentiment on the conversation or reporting, in fact the items are more likely to carry a negative tone than they are to have been neutral.
In social media, one of the main topics on the agenda was how Palestinian children were caught in this crisis and the appalling situation unfolding around them. Emotive language comes right to the fore in the social media conversation. Passionate words like “pain” “no” “pray” “peace” “darkness” “killed” “please”, featured hugely in the sentiment analysis.
According to Khoury, due to the vast accessibility of Twitter, the conflict in Gaza was now being tweeted in real time from people on the street. Huge media events like the crisis in Gaza and the Oscar Pistorius trial were fuelling peoples’ hunger for instant information. This was where the role of social media was vital, she said.
“To wait for tomorrows headline is not good enough. We will read tomorrows headline, but we want to know what is happening this very second. That is the nature of the world we live in, and I think it is a good thing,” she said.
Social media abuse
Despite the numerous positive outcomes that have followed the rise of Twitter, one of the major scourges has been the abuse of the site and freedom of expression. In the case of the Gaza conflict, a trend of racism and anti-Semitism has emerged amongst a minority towards people of the Jewish faith and Islamophobic remarks have been levelled against Muslims. However, Dadoo stressed that there was no room for racism in the Palestinian solidarity circles.
“If you consider yourself as somebody who is striving for justice in Palestine, then there is no room for anti-Semitism in that struggle. There is no room for Islamaphobia, and there is no room for bigotry of any sort,” she said.
Another challenge that has emerged is the massive amounts of information coming in at a past pace. This has given users the arduous task of trying to sift through piles of tweets for the correct information.
“If you missed it half an hour ago, the chances are you are never going to see it again. Which makes the bigger stories like Gaza and Oscar Pistorius, more likely to increase their press presence,” explained Khoury. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)