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”.


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.