Thoughtless tweeting

Thoughtless tweeting

Terence Pillay weighs in on Helen Zille’s tweet defending colonialism and asks, “Should politicians have their social media managed?”

Helen Zille_fb
Photo: Facebook, Premier Helen Zille

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Helen Zille appears to be in hot water after a tweet she posted saying something to the effect that colonialism was not all bad. And the backlash was pretty scary. But before responding, we need to bear in mind the context. She had just come back from Singapore and she was engaging with them and looking at their journey from the beginning of their democracy to where they are now, the decisions that they made, and the things they retained like the infrastructure. And part of the subtext that we need to recognise in that tweet is to look at what we’ve done, which is what comes through in her very condescending “Colonialism wasn’t all that bad!”
The problem with Twitter is that you can only express yourself in 140 characters and what she was trying to say in her foolishness sitting in the business class lounge, with its faulty TV, bad air-conditioning and faulty toilet (she wrote a long article about it subsequently, which explained the journey from Singapore to the airport and why she was saying what she said) she claimed was misunderstood.
So it’s almost impossible to capture all that thinking in one single tweet, which is what we inevitably try to do – distil it down to this ridiculous 140 character tweet – and it’s difficult to provide context in that small amount of time. So the solution is very easy, and we’ve got plenty of examples of people who shoot from the hip when they’re on Twitter to back this up, especially after a chardonnay in the business class lounge... allegedly.
So with these great case studies we can make an absolute case to say that these people should not be allowed to tweet. Either they need to have a publicity machine in place that says if a tweet comes through from Helen Zille, much like they do with the Potus account in the United States, it will go through a process before making it to the public.
If Donald Trump tweets as @realDonaldTrump then it doesn’t get screened but if he tweets as @Potus then there’s a process that has to be followed and the tweet verified and checked before it goes out. The same should happen with Zille. When she tweets in her official capacity as Premier of the Western Cape, maybe it needs to be looked at before it is posted, but when she tweets in her personal capacity she can do whatever she wants.
But either way, the public certainly needs more protection from the likes of Helen Zille and Donald Trump, than we’re currently being given.  So this is the one thing; you either stop them from tweeting altogether or you have a process that filters their tweets. At the end of the day, someone like Helen Zille needs to realise the context. She is sending out 140 characters of something which may be misread or misinterpreted and does not have a context so live with the consequences of sending out that tweet. Don’t sit there griping about it afterwards lamenting that you’re misunderstood.
You are bound by your words and no matter how much you say you want to take it back, you can’t take back what you put out there. Live with the consequences. And there’s no use crying that it’s Twitter and it only allows 140 characters; you acknowledge the platform. If you’re writing an editorial for the Mail and Guardian or the Guardian newspaper, where you’ve got three pages or two thousand words, go for gold; write and explain your story. But understand the medium. The medium is, by its very nature, going to be completely superficial, context-less information.
The second option is to say we know these people as we know them – people who cause general mayhem – so you can just have a warning system. Like the little blue tick that says their accounts are verified, perhaps put a skull and crossbones on their name and when they tweet, you are warned that you’re about to read nonsense.
At the end of the day, there needs to be public outrage about everybody that propagates hate speech and there are plenty of them. When a black politician tweets or sings about killing white farmers, there needs to be the same outrage. And if you were to scour deeper into the twitter feeds you will find this. I came across a lunatic the other day that is a complete Nazi white supremacist and I couldn’t believe that this guy was out there posting this crazy stuff.
In the end, people are entitled to their objection on anything that anyone says. You can have a conversation about it, debate it, be outraged and do all kinds of things. But, you can’t be violent or call people to violence against that person because that’s an infringement on their constitutional right to free speech. If its hate speech, that is different to having an opinion that might not be a great opinion and there’s a process – you report it to the human rights commission, then you have an investigation and that person will get sanctioned.
We need to allow our democratic institutions to function. And if you start to clamp down on people’s opinions because they make you uncomfortable, then we’re not really going anywhere. You will have all these people like Helen Zille and others who might have unpopular opinions (and I’m not saying that her opinion was unpopular) who will take those opinions around the braai and into their gated estates and continue to hold those opinions and ferment them in those little social circles. And that is not constructive. Social media has created a space for the good and the bad to have a voice, so it’s a bit more open. It’s not anonymous.

And people know that we don’t live in this rose-tinged, rainbow nation; that’s ridiculous because it’s obvious to anybody that would open their eyes and see that we don’t live in that country. And we can pretend to if we don’t hear those kinds of opinions being spoken.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts.


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