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How safe do South African bloggers feel about discussing politics online at the moment?

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posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 06:58 PM
Firstly I want to say that my thread is not only for South Africans and all opinions are welcome, although I'm of course especially interested in the stance and experiences of my fellow South Africans across the racial and political spectrum.
Then I want to say that I don't want to endorse racism, incitement or hate speech from any side, and I'll try not to repeat the specifics of each case (and there have been many since election fervor began since January 2016), although they are easy to Google, and I know ATS is already well and fairly moderated. Some of the outcomes are also still pending, as well as the exact details of what making "hate speech" illegal will actually include.

The problem concerns mainly commentary on Facebook and Twitter, but some South Africans are not totally anonymous on ATS, and it could well affect people here.
As long as the commentary is made from South Africa it could land people in serious complications - and I'm talking front-page media news, death threats, people having to go into hiding, and an end to career and study prospects. Never even mind possible legal complications and astronomical fines.
Not that I thought it was necessary to be totally anonymous.
This time last year I felt more free to comment from SA, than for example from Germany.
This is no longer the case.
It has gotten to a point where I'm avoiding some of my favorite sites and topics.

Although the issue of "hate speech" has been around for decades, it was only applicable in extreme and pretty clear-cut cases of slurs and incitement.
Now it could simply refer to statements that are robust, unpopular and disagree with the left-wing sense of history, politics and academic hegemony.
Since the beginning of 2016 we've virtually had somebody accused of posting "hate speech" on social media every week.
Some of them were clearly unfortunate drunken rants, which people actually removed (but screen-shots changed the game).
It began with Penny Sparrow, whose post was insulting and racist, but whether she meant any incitement is unlikely.
She received a fine of R150 000 and currently faces additional charges.
Until her court appearance this week, it was believed by some that she was either a fictitious troll or an agent provocateur.
Then it was an Idol's judge and outspoken radio personality, who was dismissed from the local talent competition for tweeting that South Africans "don't understand freedom of speech". He had the resources to take the company to court however, and was reinstated. Nevertheless he was widely touted as a "racist" in the media for his comment. Then came economist Dawie Roodt, who was accused of hate speech for writing that the former victims of apartheid were now "entitled". Some black commentators came to his defense, but I believe he still faces charges of hate speech for that robust point, even after being violently attacked in his home in an apparent robbery.
I will attach a few more sources and links out of hundreds of possibilities at the bottom of my OP.

But my point is, I wanted to comment further on a thread on SA for a while, but my fingers were hovering, and then I decided it's just not worth it.
And it's got nothing to do with ATS; it is a local fear.
Although I have my own bias and experience, I've always tried to be fair on SA, but I just don't feel comfortable sharing my knowledge and expertise.
The result is leading to avoidance and solipsism.
It really makes me very sad. I'm shaking as I'm writing this.
On social media people only gather around published news stories and political statements, while avoiding personal opinions.
Other than that it's music and furry animals.
Others activate and deactivate their entire accounts regularly, in case somebody finds something politically incorrect in their past.
I don't feel so much like a blogger anymore.
Does anybody share my misgivings and concerns?
Well, that's what's going down.

For a short history on political "hate speech" in SA (and actually the political discourse led to much of it) see the book by liberal journalist, commentator and public intellectual Max du Preez: A Rumour of Spring: South Africa after 20 years of democracy. (Zebra Press, 2013: Pages 232-233). Du Preez (who is actually despised as a "sell-out" by the true white right-wing) tries to be even-handed, and points out that true racism and hate speech occur across the racial and political spectrum. However, he does point out that whites who were simply prejudiced, but didn't call for incitement are heavily and publicly penalized, whereas blacks who called for direct harm face few or no consequences. The double standard has become even more glaring since nobodies made all kinds of news for social media posts in 2016.
See also:

Gareth Cliff reinstated as Idol's judge:

South Africa votes against Internet freedom of speech with regressive regimes.
More on censorship issues in SA:

I'm not against laws prohibiting cyber-bullying, or slurs and direct incitement.
But people should also be protected against witch-hunts and trial by media, and should freely be able to express their views on politics and history.
Whether it is the business of the state to protect everyone's feelings and sensibilities on already moderated social media is another matter of debate.
The smallest minority is ultimately the individual, and they shouldn't feel like they are being coerced into a political camp, silence or criminal persecution. And what of the role of the media (often biased media) who take posts that hardly anyone would have read or taken note of, and they blow it up, repeat it ad nauseam and truly turn them into divisive social issues? Should repeating "hate speech" (real or imagined), not also be hate speech?
edit on 20-7-2016 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

edit on 20-7-2016 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 07:43 PM
I'll preface this by saying that I myself do not reside in South Africa.

Still, I've often pondered this same notion. Moreover with some governments (I'm looking at you USA) storing all the internet traffic, being ominously added to a bad list without ever knowing is unsettling. All the more so in countries where people might mysteriously disappear in the middle of the night for being on one such list. (I won't name names because while many do so, how liberal they are with regards to such measures varies, and I wouldn't want to offend.) I generally avoid going beyond the surface of politics via internet communications with friends in countries that I don't know these things with regards to. I will openly confess my paranoia in these regards, but I believe that the loss of anonymity, to be identified for a political viewpoint or even political awareness of certain issues, is something that we give up when we choose to discuss such things. Personally I believe that spreading awareness is probably worth that loss of anonymity, but I certainly wouldn't make that decision for everybody. Looking at the ATS member statistics, if I recall a good half of the members have never once posted. To me that says a good portion of our community has decided they'd rather keep their anonymity and remain unaccountable to the powers that be, and I take that as a good thing. If ever those on the list were called on it'd be best that others who know aren't on it. Likewise there are probably plenty of users without accounts.

Now, I certainly don't believe it's right for people to be vehemently attacked for harboring an opposing viewpoint, I'm a fan of calm reasoned arguments myself, but as I believe in people's freedoms to dictate their own actions, I cannot force them to stop, all I can do is calmly remind the next I meet that there are other viewpoints then just their own.

As you've probably guessed, I do not generally use social media.

In any case I'm glad you've shared and hope you will continue to do so, though I also hope that you won't force yourself into an awkward position in doing so. I could say that it's because you can do more when not in trouble, but in truth it's because I wouldn't wish such troubles upon anyone. Oh, and I do hope my ramblings haven't distracted from the issue.

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 08:18 PM
a reply to: MaddenedRambler

Thanks for that.
I realize it's also a wider global issue.

I don't want to further stir the pot in SA as such (my very point).
Maybe it is more paranoia and self-censorship at times.
But it has repercussions as to how bloggers feel and behave.
It is a conundrum, because you're not only expected to think about the confines (and safety) of the rules of the site, but you're also thinking and influenced by a whole range of other considerations.
It's hard to balance everything at once.
Of course it's safer to hide behind solipsism and furry animals, but whether my views and concerns are validated or not, I think it's still valuable to share a bit of the context of what is happening.
Not that it should ever excuse any transgressions, but patterns of what people post (and what they feel comfortable posting) may change.
edit on 20-7-2016 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 08:56 PM
a reply to: halfoldman

I would not want to be in South Africa right now running a political blog or even commenting. Mandela's government was bad, Mbeki was worse and Zuma is orders of magnitude worse than Mbeki. You'd have to be using an encrypted vpn in a country not friendly to South Africa and still you might get found out. Living is expensive there, but life is cheap and Zuma's dogs are rabid.

Fortunately, I don't live there anymore and escaped while deKlerk was still president.

Cheers - Dave
edit on 7/20.2016 by bobs_uruncle because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 09:00 PM
a reply to: halfoldman

Be careful brother and # them, I don't know how long it would be until I would be fighting in such a situation. My concerns for south Africans are many and you guys have always been my kind of people tough necks and patriots, and of course know how to use a weapon.

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 09:20 PM
a reply to: halfoldman

I'm not sure what is popular and not popular. SA has an incredible crime rate, I see that. Came out of Apartheid in only 1994.
I would guess the country is still unsettled. I am thinking anything coming even tip toeing into hate speech would be a poor idea.

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 09:23 PM
My personal view is that social media is such a broad, low-brow medium that no state should stoop to playing mod, shill or overseer, unless there's a clear pattern of attacking that state on a site or profile, or extremist recruitment.

I mean the alternative is turning citizens into spies, and making some tipsy rant front page news.

What does that say about the profession of journalism?
Is that why people go and study for years?
To turn some housewife's drunk rant into front-page news?
And anybody with a phone can set up a troll account.

It seems that social media is given a greater status than published books.
And there's a lot of books that could be considered more offensive than some nobody, ranging from comedy to history and political commentary.
In fact, if somebody wrote a passage from some books on social media they'd probably be dragged to the current "inquisition".

When will the burning of the books begin, or don't journalists read?
Why privilege finding offence in somebody's ramblings, who can be reported, unfriended and ignored?

Or is it all a political game?

Whatever the case, those who decide the way forward better think very carefully before they criminalize their own discourse.
(Just thinking of SA.)

They may also be creating martyrs and driving the true extremist elements underground.
And there are places to go truly anonymous on the Interwebs.
Of course, as also often happens, with too much heavy-handedness even left-wing majorities may become shocked, and decide they can't arrest us all, we're going to do this deliberately because there's safety in numbers.
Simply for the sake of free speech.

If it is a political game, it is a dangerous one that can backfire horribly.
edit on 20-7-2016 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 09:41 PM
a reply to: halfoldman

Yup, I get ya. Honestly I almost always assume that people are censoring themselves for the sake of Geo-political safety and paranoia alike, and yes it's a hard line to walk, particularly since that line itself is generally vague and since the paranoia of those who choose to speak at all can fluctuate from day to day, circumstance to circumstance, and even from mood to mood. Still, that is the trade off we make to share our views with others at all.

To drive it home I'll also reiterate that in personal communications I try to avoid pushing my correspondents over, or even next to, that line, which in my opinion is a much easier mistake to make at times then crossing it yourself.

...but I thank you again for pointing it out to us. It's easy to forget at times which parts of the world are censored and to what extent. Perhaps I too am indulging too much in paranoia, but you rarely know until it's too late.

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 10:02 PM
I must say though, since the start of the year there have been campaigns that made South Africans more considerate perhaps in general about their public discourse.
It has been helpful in weeding out some of the tolls and extremists on some media sites.
People are more aware of what they post, and say to each other.
That can be a good thing.

But on the other hand ...
Well, I won't repeat myself.

Suffice to say it must be carefully approached by any state that truly wants cohesion.
Assuming that cohesion is what a state truly desires.
edit on 20-7-2016 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Jul, 20 2016 @ 10:12 PM
a reply to: MaddenedRambler

Yeah exactly, before you know it's too late.

And then people realize freedom of speech is gone.
You can no longer criticize the ruling party or their apparatchiks and off-shoots.

And they were applauding the media process all the way (because somebody was being offensive, and you shared the bandwagon of being offended), until the first people were thrown in prison simply for their views.

Then it's too late.
Robespierre here we come.
It can go that way.
edit on 20-7-2016 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

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