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Hashtag trends 2015: the good, the bad and the ugly

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The internet was not short of any news stories this year with the European refugee crisis and brutal attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL) taking centre stage.

Here we look at the biggest stories that trended on social media in South Africa for the 2015 year.


The State of the Nation address, #SONA2015, was among the top five hashtags of Twitter trends in the country this year. The president’s annual speech to a full sitting of Parliament was upstaged by MPs from the Economic Freedom Fighters being removed from the National Assembly, before DA MPs walked out of Parliament. The temporary lack of mobile connectivity at the proceedings also added to the hype at this year’s SONA and when opposition MP’s started chanting for signal to be restored, the famous hashtag #bringbackthesignal was born.

EFF MPs clash with security forces after being ordered out of the National Assembly by the speaker of parliament during SONA 2015,
EFF MPs clash with security forces after being ordered out of the National Assembly by the speaker of parliament during SONA 2015.


The hashtag #MustFall initially came from the student campaign at the University of Cape Town where students protested against the Rhodes statue being situated on the main upper campus at the university. Following the toppling of the iconic statue, #RhodesMustFall campaign gave name to many other campaigns that followed.


Students throughout the country mobilized in their masses to protest the proposed university fee increases for 2016 that were announced in October. The hashtag #FeesMustFall gave birth to a nationwide movement with universities across South Africa joining the campaign which was started at Wits University. The hashtag saw social media come alive with students and those who supported the campaign used the hashtag to spread their message on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, including students and those not studying but empathising with the students. The push from the students led to President Zuma announcing a 0% increase of fees for 2016. As a result of the campaign and the zero fee increase a new hashtag trending #FeesHasFallen became the new trending topic for the students whose protests in South Africa actually got a positive response from government.

Credit: EPA/Nic Bothma
Students from Fees Must Fall confronted by riot police. Credit: EPA/Nic Bothma


As South Africa suffers from a continuous drought the lack of water gave birth to the #RainMustFall campaign which continues to trend on social media. The campaign was used as a means of expression for South Africans as social media could not affect the weather in anyway what so ever.


The electricity crisis in South Africa has spanned many years, but as of this year, South Africa’s power crisis and Eskom woes became a trending topic as the public used social media to find their loadshedding schedules in order to plan ahead.  Of course, it was also used as a venting platform as many South Africans struggled with the daily reality of constant power cuts.


South Africans all over the country have called for the South African president Jacob Zuma to step down after his reshuffling of the cabinet which led to the decrease in the states currency, the rand. Zuma has also been plagued by corruption scandals, before and after he was named president of the country. Most recently marches were held all over the country calling for the president to step down.  The #ZumaMustFall hashtag became the number one trending topic in the country. According to, 60,700 tweets used the hashtag on December 10.


The Nkandla saga has been the biggest controversy surrounding President’s Zuma’s tenure. Last year, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had found that Zuma “unduly benefited” from upgrades to his private Nkandla residence in KwaZulu-Natal. The cost amounted to over R246 million of taxpayer’s money. South Africans are still seething.

A sign language interpreter burst out laughing as President Jacob Zuma jokes about Nkandla. Photo: eNCA
A sign language interpreter burst out laughing as President Jacob Zuma jokes about Nkandla. Photo: eNCA


As South Africans continued to react to the Nkandla scandal, #PayBackTheMoney became another major trending topic on social media when opposition parties in Parliament called on Zuma to pay back the money spent on the upgrades.


New elected Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane, the party’s first black leader, decided to interact with Twitter followers and others, requesting questions which he could answer. Some Twitter users began asking humorous questions and made fun of the initiative.


Other popular trending topics of social media in South Africa this year:

Top court stories


The murder of Port Elizabeth teacher Jayde Panayiotiou and her husband’s alleged involvement has seen drawn a wide public interest.


The biggest court story this year was the continued legal woes of Oscar Pistorius, accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s day two years ago. The fallen Olympic athlete was released from prison but then later had his culpable homicide conviction overturned to murder at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.  Public sentiment on social media was mostly in support of the murder conviction.

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius




The 2015 Rugby World Cup held in Britain this year was sure to be a hit on social media, as rugby is one of South Africa’s most loved sports. But no one could have predicted the social media outrage when the Springboks lost to Japan in their opening match at the tournament. It was a sporting upset that ranks as one of the biggest in world sport.  The tirade on social media quickly set off the #HeynekeMustFall trend, as rugby fans called for Heyneke Meyer to be fired as Bok coach. On the lighter side, the Bok defeat also sparked the #strongerthantheBoks trend as well as countless of hilarious memes.


Another sports tournament had South Africans glued their screens this year, the 2015 ICC World Cup.  But the excitement was short-lived as the Proteas bowed out of the Cricket World Cup semi-final match in a nerve-wrecking showdown against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland in March. No one will ever forget those heartwrenching images of the Proteas crying on the field.

Ab De Villiers cries after the Proteas crash out of the ICC World Cup.
Ab De Villiers cries after the Proteas crash out of the ICC World Cup.


Top global hastags in 2015


Millions of social media users expressed their support for victims of a series of terrorist attacks in Paris in November in which 130 people died.


This international movement grew widespread support around the world in light of continued police brutality and entrenched racism against black people in the United States.

#DonaldTrump: In US presidential campaign race, real estate mogul Donald Trump has raised the ire of people around the world with the most outlandish remarks in some of his public speeches.  But the billionaire sparked global condemnation when he called for Muslims to be temporarily banned from entering the United States. The hashtag #DonaldTrump is being used by his supporters and those against him to discuss his latest antics.


In September, a Muslim school boy in the United States made global news headlines when he was arrested for making a clock in a school project which the school believed was a hoax bomb. People all over the world showed solidarity with 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed who was evidently racially and religiously discriminated against by his former school.

Ahmed Mohamed addresses the media after his release
Ahmed Mohamed addresses the media after his release


This hashtag reached 6.2 million tweets within six hours after the US Supreme’s Court ruling on marriage equality that overturned bans on same-sex marriage in 13 states.

Entertainment stories


The hashtag is always popular in South Africa when the annual singing competion returns to television.  This US franchise show allows the audience to influence the outcome of the competition by voting, via text message, for their favourite singer.

#BlueandBlack vs #WhiteandGold or #TheDress

TheDress – is it white and gold or black and blue? That’s the question that sent social media into a frenzy on the 26 February 2015, splitting hundreds of thousands of internet users into two aggressive groups (or in some cases, even more).

The trend also known as #Dressgate went viral after a washed-out photograph of a dress posted on the social networking service Tumblr, resulted in one of the most ridiculous online disputes.

THAT dress which sparked the viral online debate
THAT dress which sparked the viral online debate

In the first week after the surfacing of the image alone, more than 10 million tweets mentioned the dress. Why this became a social media sensation, no one really knows.  VOC  (Umarah Hartley)


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