SLICE OF LIFE: Social media has taken over my life

Social media continues its pursuit to take over my daily life. I am probably a better photojournalist on Instagram than most professionals and I have developed better investigative skills than the FBI.

I have come to a realisation that my activity on social media is far greater than the average joe. Or is it?

I constantly ask myself what life would be like without the various social media accounts that I have, and if the time and effort I put into each of them is actually worth it.

Posting pictures on Instagram used to be a daily activity until it became more like a full-time job. It takes me a good couple of hours to decide which photo I should put up on Instagram. I question every single thing about the photo.  Should it be in black and white? Would it look better if it had a filter that makes me look tanned? Does this photo match the scheme of my profile feed? I also struggle to find the perfect caption. Should it be funny, philosophical or even relate to my picture at all? I have spent countless hours scrolling through Pinterest trying to find a decent caption that fits my picture and then I just end up using an emoticon anyway. The amount of effort I put into posting one picture makes me wonder about the precious time I have just wasted.

It’s a bit of a catch-22 really. A world without social media would not allow me to do the small things in life that I enjoy. Facebook lets me check up on friends who I haven’t seen since high school. I can watch my cousins grow up in America without missing out on their milestones.

But social media sucks me in. One minute I’m watching a video of a man who ran the Two Oceans Marathon on crutches and two hours later, I’m watching a video of a dog barking to its favourite song.

My mornings usually begin with checking my cellphone and spending endless time checking my social media accounts. The process starts with WhatsApp, then I switch over to Facebook to check whose birthday it is (I would never remember otherwise). Then I have to catch up on what’s happening on Snapchat stories and liking pictures on Instagram. I watch people skydive in Dubai and think of all the activities I could be doing if I left my bed.

I finish off this ritual with a good scroll through Twitter, trying to find out the latest news in hopes that I will pass the week’s current news pop quiz. When I’ve completed all these chores, I finally feel ready to get out of bed.

As a student journalist, social media has become essential in my life. Twitter helps me stay tapped into up-to-the-minute news. I also share stories I have produced on there. Not everyone reads newspapers anymore and without social media, I’m not too sure how people find my stories.

Social media has truly become so rooted in my life that even my decisions are dictated by the things I see on Apps on my phone. Zomato decides where I want to go out for dinner. If I need to contact someone for a story, I tweet them.

At the end of the day, I’ve come to terms with my social media dependency. My relationship with my phone is not an abnormality, I actually think it’s become the norm in my generation.

If I had one rand for every time I looked at my social media accounts, I would be a millionaire.

Hold that thought while I go decide what photo I’m going to post on Instagram next.

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Rape threats and racism: when the trolls arrived at Wits Vuvuzela

It has been an incredibly testing couple of days for us at the Wits Vuvuzela since the publication of the “F#ck White People” album on our Facebook page. The comments section on the album gained traction almost overnight and attracted a variety of reactions to a story we published on Monday, February 8. The story, about a lunch time demonstration on Wits University’s East Campus seems have ignited the kinds of reactions we never thought possible. Many were run of the mill comments we’re used to in our newsroom but so many others were hate-filled vitriol, so violent in nature that we were moved to the uncharacteristic act of moderating comments.

The story itself, which you can read here has not garnered as much reaction as the Facebook book album did. The images in the album contain different shots from a small protest where demonstrating students wore t-shirts marked with various slogans. The demonstration itself was a show of solidarity with a fellow student who had been reported to the Human Rights Commission for wearing a t-shirt declaring “F**K White People”.

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Screengrabs of some of the comments left on our facebook page this past week. Graphic: Wits Vuvuzela.

When we initially wrote the story, the idea was to report on an important piece of news that was happening at our university. Given the rather awkward space that the university has been trapped in over the last few weeks of trying to move forward whilst the threat of protest lingers, this demonstration highlighted the fact that we are not quite back to normal. Our decision to publish that collection of photographs and the article was part of us doing what we believe we are meant to do as journalists – to inform and educate our community about what’s happening around us.

We expected some responses to the posts. We expected the usual amount of commentary, generally quite limited. But instead what we got was an onslaught of some of the most hateful and violent comments we have ever encountered in our student newsroom.

We knew that once the trolls came out that it was time that we, as  media producers, took some responsibility for what was happening on our Facebook page. Our newsroom gathered and together, we had frank discussions about the comments, what that meant to us as people who produce the news but also what that means for our reputation and what we stand for as a community paper.

As a result,  we at the Wits Vuvuzela have decided that the offensive comments on our Facebook page which could be challenged as incitement and hate speech, including but not limited to: death threats, rape threats and anything we deem to be overly offensive, in line with our social media/website usage policy, will be hidden from our page which means that the comments will continue to exist on the profile of the person who made the post visible to them and their friends. The rest of the comments, will remain untouched.

We want to emphasise that we appreciate and welcome engagement from all our readers but we cannot in clear conscience allow hatred and violence to be spurred on by the commentary on our pages. Especially if it has nothing to do with the actual article.

Facebook removes “White People” picture

Facebook removed an image depicting a person wearing a t-shirt with the words “F*ck White People” from the Wits Vuvuzela Facebook account after a similar picture created a stir on social media.

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Photo: User:Rfsjim (Image:CENSORED.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Facebook image depicting a t-shirt reading “F*ck White People” on Wits Vuvuzela‘s Facebook account has been removed by the social media application today.

“We removed the post below because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards,” according to a Facebook notification. The account was also made briefly unavailable to Wits Vuvuzela staff members.

The post was in the form of a gallery of images that depicted students wearing t-shirts reading “F*ck White people” and “F*ck De Klerk” at a demonstration, in solidarity with a fellow student, that was held at the Great Hall Piazza yesterday.

A screen-grab of the message displayed by Facebook regarding the removal of the image from the Wits Vuvuzela Facebook account.

Photo: A screen-grab of the message displayed by Facebook regarding the removal of the image from the Wits Vuvuzela Facebook account.

The protest came after third-year Mathematical Sciences, Zama Mthunzi, was reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for hate speech after images of him wearing a t-shirt reading “F*ck White People” caused a stir on social media. The t-shirt was created during an artistic protest because of, amongst others, the financial exclusion of poor students and the presence of security personnel on campus.

Under the Facebook Community Standards section on hate speech, the social media application states that it removes content that directly attacks people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity or serious disabilities or diseases. The organisation does however state that it allows the facilitation of discussion and debate.

“People can use Facebook to challenge ideas, institutions, and practices … Sometimes people share content containing someone else’s hate speech for the purpose of raising awareness or educating others about that hate speech. When this is the case, we expect people to clearly indicate their purpose,” according to Facebook’s policy.

The image that was removed was among other images in the gallery depicting students protesting with t-shirts sprayed with “F*ck Wits”, “F*ck White Tears” and “Being Black is Sh*t.”

Witsie forced to retract statements made on Facebook account

UPDATE: A response from the Wits Legal Office on Bhekithemba Mbatha’s matter was receieved after going to print. This article has been updated accordingly to include this comment.

Bhekithemba Mbatha told Wits Vuvuzela about what he believes is violation of  his freedom of speech.

Facebook is to many students just another platform to be social. It seen as a free space where people get to share their views and ideas, the serious and the not-so-serious with few consequences.

Bhekithemba Mbatha, a postgraduate Law student, was until recently one of the many young people who believed this about Facebook.

Last week, however, Mbatha discovered that this isn’t quite the case when it comes to Facebook and the management of Wits University.

Mbatha, a postgraduate Law student, wrote on his Facebook page criticizing a Wits Vuvuzela article about dismissed SRC president Mcebo Dlamini’s comments in admiration of Adolf Hitler

He accused the Wits Vuvuzela of being a “useless tabloid” that practices “poor journalism at its best.”

Mbatha’s post called for a “public burning of Vuvuzela” urging “comrades” to “bring their match sticks and we will burn this newspaper!”

Not long afterwards, Mbatha was contacted by the Wits Legal Office and was told to retract his statement publically or face a charge of inciting violence and risk being kicked out of university.

“I was shocked to hear I have influence as I do not hold any positions on campus, I am just a mere student who was raising his opinion about an issue I see on campus,” said Mbatha.

He said the time university management spent sanctioning him could have been used to help needy students.

Mbatha said his Facebook comment to publicly burn Wits Vuvuzela was not meant to be taken literally and was being “blown out proportion”.

“There is no sane student, a Wits student, crème-de-la-crème of our community, that would literally take matches and burn a building,” he said.

“It’s like Wits is becoming obsessed with our Facebook, with our accounts. What happens on Facebook is blown out of proportion. This whole thing was blown out of proportion.”

The Wits Legal Office responded by saying:

“The University holds dear the rights to freedom of speech and media freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution of the country. As such, it is committed to ensuring that it fosters an environment within which Wits operations, including its student newspaper, can function without fear or threat.”

Mbatha feels that freedom of speech is threatened in the university as well as student activism. “Now we are scared of being charged, we are scared of protesting because we are going to be charged, we are scared of talking on our Facebook pages because we are going to be charged.”

SCIENCE INSIDE: Facebook played with your emotions, here’s how…

You remember what Facebook did to you, right? Playing with your emotions? Manipulating your newsfeed? They used algorithms, maths and science to trick you. Here’s how…

The Science Inside, the show that goes inside the science of major news events, is produced by Paul McNally, Anina Mumm, DJ Keyez and Lutfiyah Suliman for The Wits Radio Academy. Tune in live to VowFM every Monday at 6pm.

The rise and rise of the selfie

Mxit came first, Facebook followed, Twitter was not far behind  but while each of these social media platforms was growing, the “selfie” was quietly establishing as one of the hottest trends in recent times.

If you’ve been buried under a rock somewhere, a selfie  is a picture or photograph taken by one’s self and shared on social media platforms. There are different kinds of selfies taken daily, by celebrities and ordinary people alike.

There is even a song about selfies by the band the Chainsmokers. But while their popularity is undisputed, the motivation for this trend is not quite clear.

Academics, psychologists and sociologists alike are still probing the obsession with the self-image and the need to share almost every moment via  a turned-around camera. Studies so far have have shown that selfies are an indication of a person’s obsession with appearance and the need for attention which is largely attributed to a low self- esteem or narcissism even.

People compete for the perfect selfie in all sorts of settings, including the gym, at a party out with friends,  just lazing around or studying in their rooms. For others it is about a new hairstyle, a hot outfit or their make-up.

“I usually take selfies when I have a new hairstyle, I take a lot of selfies then,” says 4th year Social Work student, Sinethemba Nkosi.

For Nomvelo Chalumbira, 2nd year BA student, she takes selfies when she is out with friends in a new place or on holiday, and sometimes when she is really bored when studying.

She added, “I don’t take them often at all, because I feel like it’s very vain and most of the time when I take them, I’m in a comfortable space with people I’m comfortable with or where I’m comfortable myself.”

SAY CHEESE: A group selfie.

SAY CHEESE: A group selfie with some of #teamvuvu.      Photo By: Illanit Chernick

Selfies are not a big deal for Silindokuhle Mavuso who is studying a BSc Honours in Geology and Palaeontology, “I barely take selfies, maybe one or two a month and if I take one it’s because I’m drunk with friends.”

Selfies are intimate and relate one’s personal experiences. But because of the belief that “if it’s not on social media, it did not happen,” content like selfies is readily shared on social media.

Nkosi says, “Most of the time I use them as DP [profile picture] for BBM or Whatsapp and Facebook.”

Mavuso who thinks taking selfies is conceited and pointless, tries to avoid taking them. He believes, as Chalumbira does that, taking a selfie is a very vain thing to do.

Whatever your feelings about them though, the popularity of the selfie is such that the word has been added to the Merriam-Webster English dictionary.

It was announced this week that the word, defined as an image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks,” will now join other terms like ‘tweep’ and ‘hashtag’ in the  dictionary. 

 

 

OPINION: Addicted to social media, and loving it!

ANTI-SOCIAL?:  Recent anti-social media campaigns have criticized generation Y's of being out of touch with the world. Photo:  Lameez Omarjee

ANTI-SOCIAL?: Recent anti-social media campaigns have criticised ‘Generation Y’ of being out of touch with the world. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Hi, my name is Lameez and I am addicted to social media.

They say the first step to recovery is admission. Only, I am not in denial and I have no plans to recover.

I think Mark Zuckerberg is gangsta and the only regret I have is not dropping out of school to start a multi-billion dollar company by the age of 23, myself. If this journalism thing does not work out, I am asking Mark for a job, to finally  put my other degree to good use.

Anti-social media campaigns have ironically gone viral. I have watched the videos. I recognise myself, looking at the screens and not “being in touch” with the world.

But these anti-social initiatives are not the most objective videos telling only one side of a story which on its own sounds ominous for future generations.

The video where the man misses the chance to meet the love of his life because he is too busy looking down at his screen and subsequently misses the feeling of holding his grandson in his arms, thirty years later is so overly dramatic! I can Google tons of people who found love on the internet, they are all on Craigslist.

People say social media makes you anti-social. What the “deuce?” (I learnt that from reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes, so, contrary to popular belief, I do actually read).

Sure, I hate it when my dad does not hear what I am saying because he is too busy playing Candy Crush on his iPad, but have you ever played Candy Crush? Have you watched a vine? Do you know what YouTube can teach you?

I use Google and Wikipedia to expand my general knowledge and using that knowledge I contribute to an international community of bloggers where I get to exchange ideas with talented writers and learn to improve my own work.

“Each day the number of avenues for you to express yourself creatively on the web are growing.”

I am more in touch with the world because of social media.

As an introvert, social media has given me opportunities to voice my opinions appropriately assertively, on platforms where people with differing values and perceptions can engage with me.

 

I know the closest relationship I have is with my smartphone. But at least he does not hang out in other people’s pockets. And when he gets boring I can always replace him with a better model.

Facebook scammer needs identity booklet

I recently accepted a Facebook friend request from someone with the same name as my brother.

The “Facebook friend” Jabulane Zwane and I became friends about two months ago. Soon after that he told me he had been abandoned by his biological parents, lived with his adoptive parents and needed my help to get a South African identity document (ID). Initially I was apprehensive as there are scams around. I wanted to delete but instead I decided to ask questions.

When I asked him how he would like me to help him he responded “go to hmeafairs n confes dat u knw me”.

This was clearly a problem for me as I didn’t know this Jabulane Zwane. I began to wonder if he was a desperate person in need of an identity document or if this was a case of an identity theft scam.

Home Affairs spokesperson, Ronnie Mamoepa told Vuvuzela: “There are black people who were not registered on the database of the country; these people need to apply for a late registration birth.”

Mamoepa said the person must present themselves at Home Affairs and they can apply on their own behalf. They should bring their birth certificate, police affidavit, people who know them and a school report.

There was an incident in 2009 when a young boy killed himself because he had such trouble getting an ID. Skhumbuzo Mhlongo, born in 1987, killed himself in frustration. The Home Affairs official who was conducting his interview was not satisfied with the information Mhlongo gave and accused him of lying. The official tore his papers, threw them at him and said Mhlongo was clearly not a South African citizen. They called him a derogatory name used for foreigners.

My Facebook “friend” Zwane about two weeks ago, claimed to have the same issue “eish I dnt hv mum n dad n I lv wth th stp parnts n I dnt hv brthcirtficate”, he wrote on my private inbox. He said that as a result of not having an ID he’s been told to stop attending school “ja n thy say I cnt go to xkul if I dnt hv it.”

Zwane claims that he went to Home Affairs with his adoptive parents to apply for a late birth certificate. His application was rejected, he said, because he didn’t have enough information to prove that he was a South African citizen. He has now become desperate.

“I rathr die, myb thngz will get bttr 4evry1” he wrote. I started getting concerned about his well-being, bearing in mind Mhlongo’s suicide.

But as Mamoepa said “the danger is you don’t know who approached you, you are taking a chance”.

I still don’t know whether Zwane is a scam artist who has access to the internet, a Facebook account without a profile picture looking to scam students or if he’s a 19-year-old young man desperate to get an ID in order to further his studies.

 

Professor asked students for sex

Katlego’s* story

Katlego* perches on a wall outside the Cullen Library, an old Nokia in her hand. She shields the screen against the sun, so that the message is visible.

“Hope you will turn me into your personal slave,” one message reads. “Make me serve you and then reward me!”
“Whatever we might agree would be totally secret and safe with no strings attached,” says another. These messages are from Katlego’s lecturer.

“I remember the first time he sent me an SMS. He said something very explicit,” Katlego says.

She called the number back twice, not knowing who it was. There was no answer. “That’s when he sent an SMS, he was like, ‘Don’t call me, let’s just chat via SMS.’”

Katlego had never given him her number, and was initially surprised that he had managed to get hold of it. “But then I realised that he’s a lecturer. He can just look up my name and get my number.”

Katlego says she never considered reporting him.  “It was so overwhelming; I thought, ‘OK, I’m just going to brush it off.’ I was a first year student, I didn’t want to jeopardise anything, didn’t want to get into trouble for getting a lecturer into trouble.

“I brushed him off. I told him look, you need to stop. He just said, ‘You can’t handle me, you can’t handle my attention’. But I told him that I was losing all respect for him as my lecturer. And I stopped replying to his SMSes.

“A man his age, it was really disturbing. Have you seen him on campus? He walks with his head down. He knows, he knows he’s surrounded by victims.”

Samantha’s* story

Samantha* had a similar experience in her first year, when the same lecturer invited her to be his friend on Facebook. “He invited a couple of us black females on Facebook, including myself, lots of my friends. He sent one of my friends something really, really, really nasty. There are so many girls that I know. Actually more than six.

“If you ask any black girl who did [the subject] at some stage, they’ll tell you. He approaches everyone,” says Samantha.

Wanting to expose the lecturer, Samantha spoke to her friends, asking them to come forward. But they refused. “My other friend sat me down and said, ‘You don’t want to be that girl. You don’t want to be that girl that exposes the lecturer. You don’t want that reputation.’”

Samantha was unwilling to let Wits Vuvuzela see the messages the lecturer had sent her on Facebook, although she had kept them.

“He’d remember. He’d probably check all the girls he inboxed, and then he’d know. I want to do honours [in the department], so I’m not going to do that.”

However, Samantha is quick to praise the professor. “He’s such a good lecturer, honestly. He’s making changes in the department, good changes.”

Despite this, she admits that his advances on the young women that he lectures are “bad”.

“For me, it’s no big deal because nothing happened, I didn’t entertain it. But what if I was failing, what if I was poor? What does it mean for those girls?”

Ayanda’s* story

Yet another student, Ayanda*, has also been approached by the Wits lecturer. In her case, it was via Yahoo Chat. Ayanda claims that she wasn’t the only student approached by the lecturer, and she has friends who had a similar experience.

“He asks how you are and if you are interested in him. If not, he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t want a relationship, just sex. He has a relationship already.

“At first it was just creepy then it became sad. I honestly thought it was a joke, but jokes don’t continue for months.”

 

In response to Wits Vuvuzela, the lecturer in question has denied the allegations and said: “There are appropriate channels within the university for dealing with cases of sexual discrimination and harassment”.

A complaint can be laid with one of the counsellors at the Careers Development Unit (CCDU), after which “the process will be driven/guided by the needs and wishes of the complainant”, according to the unit’s sexual harassment policy.

The CCDU’s definition of sexual harassment is “any form of unwanted sexual advance, [which] can include physical, verbal or non-verbal behaviour”.

The student laying the complaint can choose not to pursue any process involving the alleged harasser, to get counselling, follow a process of mediation, or lay a formal internal complaint, resulting in a formal grievance and/or disciplinary process.

Can lecturers date their students?

Contrary to popular belief, relationships between lecturers and students are not explicitly forbidden.

The Wits human resources department has compiled a set of “guidelines” for lecturer-student relationships, which states:
“[F]or instance in the development of a romantic relationship, a staff member should consider carefully the possible consequences for him/herself and the student. Consensual romantic relationships with student members, while not expressly prohibited, can prove problematic.”

Wits Vuvuzela is investigating cases of sexual harassment that students have brought to our attention. If you have any information, please contact us at editor@witsvuvuzela.com.

Wits Vuvuzela will protect the identity of all  its sources.

*Names have been changed.

 

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 25th edition, September 21 2012.