South Africa’s social media channels cooked up a number of memorable moments in 2014.
From PR foot-in-mouth, to civil action against schemes and corporate shenanigans and the ever-present racial uproars, the South African Facebook and Twitter platforms saw their fair share of controversy.
Rbjacobs joke bombs
FNB’s online personality, Rbjacobs, found himself in hot water after a Twitter “joke” didn’t sit well with the bank’s clients.
When a curious Twitter user asked the account where the bank’s (in)famous “Steve” character had disappeared to, the group’s online rep responded with:
“He’s somewhere in Afghanistan, putting a bomb under a wheelchair and telling the cripple to run for it!”
The backlash to the “joke” was immediate, with many of the PR account’s followers expressing their disapproval.
The tweet was subsequently deleted, with “Rbjacobs” apologising, saying that “it was not my intent to cause any offense,” blaming a lapse in judgement.
FNB also drew criticism in the latter part of the year for its “unSteve” yourself campaign, which labelled people who weren’t making the “smart” choice to bank with FNB as “Steves”. It left a number of people with the name Steve unimpressed.
Time to blackface the music
Twitter erupted when two images were uploaded to social media platforms depicting white students dressed up as stereotypical black people, or what is commonly referred to as “blackface”.
The first incident involved two white female students from the University of Pretoria, who posted an image of themselves dressed as black African domestic workers.
The picture showed the pair in domestic worker outfits with black paint smeared on their faces and arms, posing with headscarves and padded bottoms.
The incident, after much furor and debate on Twitter – both against the racial stereotyping and in defence of “freedom of expression” – lead to the students being kicked out of their residences at the university.
In the months following the uproar, a fresh blackface scandal appeared when two white Stellenbosch students dressed as Venus and Serena Williams to a dress-up party, which was met with the same backlash.
The students involved published a statement saying that no malicious intent was behind the outfits, and that they regretted the action – but many parties remained unmoved.
Pulling Hofmeyr’s strings
Another “Twar” (Twitter war) that raised racial tension came when ventriloquist and comedian Conrad Koch openly challenged Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr over a controversial and racially charged tweet.
In October, Hofmeyr tweeted: “Sorry to offend, but in my books, blacks were the architects of Apartheid. Go figure.”
The tweet was met with the expected outrage – but when Koch questioned why Hofmeyr’s corporate sponsors continued to support an “admitted racist”, things got heated, and legal.
What followed was an interdict against the comedian preventing him from “harassing” Hofmeyr over social media. However, the case was thrown out of court several days later.
The whole fiasco played out in front of the South African online community, and remained a hot topic for several weeks. The irony of one of the biggest racial debates in the country being played out between two white males and a coloured puppet was not lost on many.
Like a Bullard in a china shop
A much-talked about figure in South Africa’s Twittersphere is former Sunday Times columnist, David Bullard, whose views landed him in hot water in 2014.
In early February, Bullard sparked outrage on social media by engaging with activist and journalist, Michelle Solomon on the topic of rape.
Bullard earned the ire of many liberal left commentators – who he affectionately labels “libtards” – for handling Twitter exchanges with Solomon, a rape victim, with contempt and insensitivity.
The Twitter exchange between Bullard and Solomon, in which he questioned her rape claims (which were not reported), led to journalists from the Mail & Guardian penning columns labeling Bullard as a rape apologist and racist, amongst other things.
Bullard, after much uproar, responding defenses, and further outrage, sued the publication and the journalists involved for defamation to the tune of R16 million.
Months after the initial spike, Bullard’s Twitter account was suspended after a refreshed call from Solomon to report his “continued harassment”.
However, upon reactivation, Bullard reported that the account suspension had to do with his display image (revealing a naked breast, at the time), and not for any alleged harassment.
Cell C banner love
When most people have a problem with big corporates, they immediately turn to social media to raise their concerns or unhappiness.
When you’re a business owner with a bit more disposable income, however, you erect a banner calling out the company for what you believe to be terrible service and let the Internet do the work for you.
This is what George Prokas did when he ran into trouble with mobile operator, Cell C. Having faced a significant billing issue the operator Prokas decided to vent his anger and frustration by putting up a large banner reading:
Cell C took that matter to court, and Prokas ultimately had to remove the banner and make alterations to the information displayed, but the damage had already been done.