Twitter and Participatory Citizenship: #FeesMustFall in South Africa
The Fees Must Fall movement was a national, student-led protest which began in mid-October 2015, in a response to fee increases at South African universities. The protests arose from a broader context of declining government funding for higher education, as well as broader socio-economic inequalities and racial conflicts. During the height of the campaign, social networking site Twitter was used both as an organizing tool by students, and also as a space for national debate around related issues. The Fees Must Fall campaign falls into the category of what Postill describes as a viral campaign, with the main features of tweets with catchy slogans, explosive growth, social drama liminality, real time participation and intense but ephemeral news media coverage. The proposed chapter explores how the campaign used Twitter, in the context of an international growth in so-called ‘Twitter activism’, and wide-range online political participation. The methodology is a social network analysis of over a million tweets collected at the height of the protests, which will identify key actors and relationships. A qualitative content analysis will explore the purpose and nature of the online conversations via the hashtag #FeesMustFall. Much scholarly work on Twitter uses hashtags to identify tweets, to highlight particular conversations and communicative exchanges. The central question is to what extent virals such as #FeesMustFall strengthen or undermine public discourse, and whether political reality is framed by such virally shared digital content. In this instance, Twitter afforded youth an opportunity to participate in politics and set mainstream news agendas. While South Africa’s transition to democracy in the 1990s was not marked by violent revolution, rising social inequality has resulted in ongoing community protests, and the student protests can be seen within this context. Revolutionary student movements have always been a feature of transitional societies, and are appearing with increasing frequency in Western societies. The chapter contributes to understanding the role of the internet in fostering political participation and activism. Taking into account critiques of the internet by scholars such as Morozov and Dean, the proposed chapter explores the collective experiences of social media within the context of #FeesMustFall.
KeywordsSocial Medium Political Participation Social Drama Twitter User Social Media Platform
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