South Africa: Beware the Weaponisation of Social Media - Twitter Is Not Reality, the Twitterati Are Not 'The Public'

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(file photo).

Twitter is a particularly malignant form of social media. A vocal minority on Twitter has the capacity to punch far above its numerical weight and to make a significant impact on the wider public sphere -- and that's what the EFF has done to further its brand of authoritarian populism.

Last week's judgment in the Gauteng High Court in favour of Thandeka Gqubule and Anton Harber, and against Mbuyiseni Mdlozi and the EFF, is an important win for democracy.

Around the world, the rise of social media has enabled dishonesty to be weaponised in new and dangerous ways. The mainstream media, always imperfect, has often compromised its credibility in the rush to search for 'clicks' on social media. The result has been the rise of anti-democratic, and sometimes even fascist forms of politics driven by Facebook, WhatsApp and, above all, by Twitter.

Social media has changed the public sphere as radically as the invention of the printing press did in Medieval Europe. As is always the case with rapid change, it will take some time for our institutions and laws to catch up to the new reality.

In 2016 the shock election of Donald Trump was often described as "the...

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