Business Unusual

Social protests in the 21st century

The #FeesMustFall movement set a new benchmark for collective action in South Africa. The number of tweets in mid-October 2015 exceeded half a million during the week or half of the total volume of activity for the week.

The precursor came from #PayBackTheMoney at the 2015 State of the Nation address.

Prior to that, it was the death and memorial for Nelson Mandela in 2013 that moved so many to use social platforms to reflect on the news (It is still the most tweeted event in South Africa).

More recently a small group of students at Pretoria Girls High School were able to start a national conversation about how South Africa does and should view appearance and the unacceptable way it is still being applied. Was it simply a cause that needed to be addressed or was there a multiplier effect from social media?

A brief history of social activism

In general terms, and in an African context, the start of social mobilisation would be the 2007 Kenyan presidential elections. Following the vote, reports of violence around the country spurred a group of Kenyan developers to create a means for reports sent via email and SMS to be logged on a map to highlight areas for security services to intervene and for citizens to avoid.

The ability to tap into a connected public to both report and verify reports offered a very powerful tool using resources that were already available.

The platform became Ushahidi, and has been used for tracking disasters like the earthquake in Haiti and many others since. It is an open platform that can be used by anyone.

Probably the most significant social movement to date has been the Arab Spring. It had been a long time coming but could be said to have reached a tipping point with the self-immolation of a trader in Tunisia in December 2010. It lead to the ousting of the president and a significant overhaul of the state less than a month later.

While it would be incorrect to suggest the Arab Spring, or any other social protest, came about as a result of social media, there is a strong argument that says the social platforms gave unorganised groups the ability to quickly and easily get organised. In heavily controlled societies it allowed citizens to circumvent official channels and test the popularity of their beliefs and arrange to meet or gather in protest.

It is not uncommon that governments would limit, or cut off, access to the web when protests are likely. Turkey has a reputation for doing so during protests even though President Erdogan used social media to call citizens to take to the streets to resist the recent coup.

The President called for citizens to take to the streets to resist the coup plotters soon after it began.

The implications for brands

Brands in the past may have been happy to work with the private critical feedback from customers and possibly even simply ignore it. Feedback now though is typically posted publicly, making the ability to ignore negative feedback difficult.

Companies like Yelp, Hello Peter and Trip Advisor, among others, have built a business from directing public feedback back to brands.

The trend is likely to continue as both more people gain access to the platforms and the sophistication of the platforms compel brands and states to be more accountable.

The future of social activism

But it is not all good news. A critical element of reporting is verification and many on social platforms don’t, simply sharing what they find and trusting that all reports are true (or that someone else will verify it). A false rumour can ruin a brand, or personal reputation, and certainly affect a public discourse.

There are two options to address it and both need to be implemented. Basic reporting skills need to taught at school and in businesses to reduce bad reports and future platforms need to build in a means for testing the veracity of what is being posted or shared.

If we can achieve that, humanity can look forward to a new age of transparency and accountability. If not, we would have created the greatest and most dangerous mobs ever.

Listen to Collin Cullis below.

Click here (then“like” the page) to follow Bruce on Facebook.

Enter your email address in the form below to receive a newsletter containing the most-read articles of the week from Bruce Whitfield’s The Money Show every Friday morning in your inbox.

Subscribe to our Business Wrap Newsletter

Article brought to us by Old Mutual.

Read More
Great ideas, wrong time

Great ideas, wrong time

The iPhone, Ebay and Facebook, we all know these killer applications but what about their very similar predecessors that flopped.

The world of business is changing, here is what you need to know.

The world of business is changing, here is what you need to know.

Companies, institutions and principles, nothing is safe from the impact of the 4th industrial revolution.

What 30 years of data tells us about the past and future of the super wealthy

What 30 years of data tells us about the past and future of the super wealthy

Changes to the Forbes Rich List is like a financial history of the world, reflecting economic booms and busts.

Everything you need to know about the dark web, but were too afraid to ask

Everything you need to know about the dark web, but were too afraid to ask

The recent closure of two illegal online marketplaces selling contraband has put the dark web back in the spotlight.

The Alibaba Group does not see itself as a company but an economy

The Alibaba Group does not see itself as a company but an economy

Alibaba founder Jack Ma says the future is his biggest competitor and he wants young entrepreneurs to help him succeed.

If a minimum wage is a good idea, what about a maximum?

If a minimum wage is a good idea, what about a maximum?

Salary caps are not new, but wage gaps have never been this big, perhaps this is how could we address it.

Popular articles
An expert guide on 'hotwifing' and 'cuckolding' in the bedroom

An expert guide on 'hotwifing' and 'cuckolding' in the bedroom

Clinical sexologist Dr Eve shares insights into sexual fetishes and how partners negotiate them in their bedroom and relationship.

[Watch] John Maytham shuts down victim shamer on air

[Watch] John Maytham shuts down victim shamer on air

A caller wanted to know what the alleged victim had done in order for Grace Mugabe to assault her.

WC Health Dept responds to Diphtheria outbreak

WC Health Dept responds to Diphtheria outbreak

Dr John Sonnenberg voiced his concern that communication in the Helderberg area following the outbreak could have happened sooner.

Cape officials to harvest 500 million litres of new water a day

Cape officials to harvest 500 million litres of new water a day

Mayor of Cape Town speaks to CapeTalk's Kieno Kammies about plans to provide more water amidst the ongoing drought.

Khoza sacking shows Zuma camp on warpath – analyst

Khoza sacking shows Zuma camp on warpath – analyst

Karima Brown says developments in Parliament over the past 24 hours shows the ANC caucus is imploding.

"I bumped into Anoj Singh and Eskom's Prish Govender at the Hyde Park Hotel"

"I bumped into Anoj Singh and Eskom's Prish Govender at the Hyde Park Hotel"

Sikhonathi Mantshantsha says surely as Anoj Singh is on suspension, he should not be talking to Eskom employees.

Journos walk out of Bathabile Dlamini's briefing after 2 hour wait

Journos walk out of Bathabile Dlamini's briefing after 2 hour wait

EWN's Gia Nicolaides says journalists walked out of the media briefing on social grants after waiting for hours for her to arrive.

Grace Mugabe used normal passport and can't enjoy diplomatic immunity

Grace Mugabe used normal passport and can't enjoy diplomatic immunity

Shadow Minister of International Relations says Mugabe's case should not be debated any further as she can't enjoy any privileges.