2014, a year full of headline grabbing and sensational news stories, also marked a significant shift in the global community’s acceptance and usage of social media as a major news source. Unlike previous years, social media easily became the platform of choice for users to access information, express their opinions on trending stories, as well as get involved in global activism campaigns.
The year was especially significant in South Africa for both positive and negative reasons, although the latter seemed more dominated. Social media was abuzz with comments on Jacob’s Zuma’s ongoing Nkandla scandal, the EFF’s rise in Parliament, as well as the highly publicized murder trials of Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani. And in each case, users responded to these stories in critical, sometimes positive, and often humorous ways.
Online media monitoring group ROI Africa spent the past year analyzing over 206 million media platforms, ranging from print, radio, T.V, online news and social media amongst others. By ‘pulling out’ some of the major international and local stories throughout the year, they were able to determine what the top social media trends were for 2014.
According to the group’s managing director, Tonya Khoury, no individual or story came close to matching President Jacob Zuma, who yielded a whopping 60% of coverage, albeit largely negative. Other major local stories included the Nigeria church collapse, of which several dozen victims were South African, the murder of football star Senzo Meyiwa, the Generations cast dismissal, and the ongoing Eskom electricity crisis.
“Eskom came in at 6% of the conversation over a year’s period. People are very angry about Eskom,” she stated.
Whilst DA leader, Helen Zille, has received particular acclaim for her active presence on social media, few politicians have drawn as much coverage as the EFF’s Julius Malema. Amongst the stand out points for the controversial politician was his party’s conduct during its first year in parliament.
“Julius Malema certainly knows how to market. It’s not always great press, in fact its often very negative, but we have seen at ROI Africa that the charts are often painted red with EFF and Julius Malema conversations,” she said.
The year also saw South Africans increasingly using social media as a form of activism. In light of the ongoing Israeli oppression against Palestinians, Khoury said the #BoycottWoolworths campaign had featured quite heavily since August, contributing to at least 1% of the local conversation.
From a legal perspective, few cases were more prominent than the murder trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, who is currently serving jail time on charges of manslaughter for the killing of girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The trial reportedly received a quarter of the global conversation over 2014, beating out Ebola, the Ferguson protests, and the actions of the Islamic State (IS).
“Oscar Pistorius… I can’t even put him on our local charts because he was swamped (with coverage). I think he is likely to overtake President Jacob Zuma on our local charts. Oscar Pistorius was one of the biggest stories in the world for 2014. To put it into perspective, there was about three times more conversation about the trial than the 2014 Fifa World Cup,” she explained.
Khoury said one of the standout stories on the international stage was the 60-day Gaza war, in which Israel launched an intense military campaign dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge’, resulting in over 2100 mostly civilian casualties. She claimed the social media impact was such that news platforms were demoted to the second most used source of information.
“What was fascinating about Gaza was for the first time, in my opinion anyway, we saw social media starting to dictate how news was reported. We found credible journalists within Gaza using Twitter as their mechanism to report from the crisis,” she said.
This was similarly noted in the case of IS, and the coverage of the groups brutal beheadings of several foreign journalists and aid workers.
On a light hearted note, Twitter users regularly took the platform for a sense of comedic and sarcastic commentary of the year’s biggest stories. In the case of Eskom’s enforcement of load shedding, amongst the big trends was the hashtag #IfEskomWasA. This saw the energy provider compared to other lackluster and useless products. Other laugh-out-loud trends were #NotSenzosDad, which poked fun at Sam Meyiwa’s signature wave. At the funeral of Senzo Meyiwa at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in November , a picture of his dad waving his arms outside the car window featured on the front page of many newspapers. The picture has since gone viral on social media.
“Even when we are faced with the biggest of tragedies, we happen to find humor to make light of very tragic situations,” she added. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)