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.


This article first appeared on 702 : Social protests in the 21st century


Recommended

by THE NEWSROOM
Read More
Facebook has a problem and it is us

Facebook has a problem and it is us

Facebook’s change to what gets shown in your newsfeed will affect many businesses, but the problem is almost 100 years old.

A big battery may work better than a power plant

A big battery may work better than a power plant

Electricity grids fail if there is more demand than supply. Batteries could fix that.

2017 was the year social media got captured

2017 was the year social media got captured

Rest in Peace, social media innocence… The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews Stuff magazine’s Toby Shapshak.

How a South African put Amazon in the cloud

How a South African put Amazon in the cloud

You may not know Chris Pinkham, but you use the services he helped create every day.

Things we invented in 2017

Things we invented in 2017

No, this is not about Bell Pottinger or Donald Trump, but actual innovations that will affect us in the future.

The drone and satellite could become as important as the tractor to farmers

The drone and satellite could become as important as the tractor to farmers

Farming advances will add precision, both to reduce waste and costs while improving yield and being kinder to the environment.

Popular articles
Bergvliet High School implements water saving measures

Bergvliet High School implements water saving measures

The school has started implementing its short-terms goals, tabled with the help of parents, staff and learners.

No returns, no refunds school uniform shop to be taken to task

No returns, no refunds school uniform shop to be taken to task

Parents are concerned about Felix Sports no returns, no refunds and no exchanges policy.

This is how much you should be paying your domestic worker

This is how much you should be paying your domestic worker

Stephen Rathai, director of employment standards at the Department of Labour talks on the new national minimum wage.

Madiba’s private secretary Zelda la Grange opens up about money (hers and his)

Madiba’s private secretary Zelda la Grange opens up about money (hers and his)

Bruce Whitfield interviews La Grange about her and Madiba's attitude to money (hopes and fears, successes and failures, etc.)

It's not the end of the road... Top tips to improve your matric

It's not the end of the road... Top tips to improve your matric

"Recognise that it’s not the end, it’s the beginning." Expert advise for school-leavers who want to improve their results.