Oscar Pistorius: social media slams sentence, global search spikes

oscar pistorius

After three years of back-and-forth legal battles, Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to six-years behind bars for shooting and murdering Reeva Steenkamp.

The legal journey’s ups and downs, twists and turns is something South Africa, and the world, has been following attentively. The trial will likely be remembered as South Africa’s first real public trial fuelled by social media reaction. But what does that mean?

We asked the folk over at YouKnow, a South African social media analytics company, to scrub the depths of social media for reactions before during and post-sentencing. And well, the results are pretty interesting.

Oscar Pistorius’ sentence receives negative social verdict

The company looked at “250 000 relevant tweets, posts and blogs” from 6 July 2016.

For starters, many online commenters ridiculed the six-year sentence. YouKnow remarks that just 11% of conversations held positive sentiment, while a third [33%] were negative towards the verdict.

Most of the social chatter, rather obivously, originated from SA with 40% of surveyed conversations. The USA [15.8%] and UK [13.8%] provided the second and third most conversations respectively.

Oscar Pistorius

Graph: (Social media conversations, 6 July 2016, 12am SAST to 6 July 2016, 10pm SAST) via YouKnow

Conversation peaked between 10am (all times SAST) and 11am — around the time of Pistorius’s sentencing — with just below 69 000 conversations. This held around the 55 000 mark until midday. By 10pm, chatter surrounding Pistorius subsided dramatically to around 2 700.

oscar pistorius

Odds, ends and deeper comparisons

The negative sentiment continued through to trending hashtags as well.

While #OscarPistorius and #ReevaSteenkamp were the obvious top trends of the day (this was mirrored in Google Trends’ search data too), hashtags like #rhino and #AltonSterling were unexpected companion trends. The former, YouKnow believes, were tweets drawing comparisons to rhino poachers, who receive much harsher sentences for guilty poaching convictions.

Alton Sterling was the latest shooting victim in Louisiana, USA, who was shot and killed by police officers earlier this week.

Note: comparisons to these and other examples would become a general theme running through social media conversation throughout the day.

As for the most common @handles, the list is dominated by journalists, with mugged-live-on-air SABC journalist Vuyo Mvoko receiving over 1600 mentions throughout the day. Commenters drew a comparison to those recently convicted of mugging Mvoko and his SABC crew — they received 15-years behind bars.

What about search trends?

Worldwide search trends (below) within the past week saw a more pronounced search spike for “Reeva Steenkamp” than South Africa (bottom).

While these numbers don’t reveal much about searchers’ sentiment towards the trial, verdict or Oscar Pistorius himself, it’s clear that Reeva Steenkamp remains an important search topic for Google users. The spike in worldwide search could indicate that many globally don’t know Reeva Steenkamp. The South African public, thanks to the trial’s three-year span, would be fairly familiar with Steenkamp and Pistorius alike.

In more general news terms, the Pistorius trial was among world news’s biggest stories. When Oscar Pistorius’s search graph is plotted alongside “Lionel Messi” (an Argentine footballer recently given a 21-month suspended prison sentence for tax fraud) and “Alton Sterling”, the graphs really aren’t too far apart, indicating similar global interest between these stories.

Where things stand

Beyond the social media numbers though, Oscar Pistorius will not appeal the six-year sentence. However, he’ll be allowed to appeal for parole after “half and two thirds of the sentence” is served, his instructing attorney Andrew Fawcett claims. The latest ruling brings the case to a close after Pistorius was sentenced for manslaughter in October 2014, and handed five-years’ imprisonment.

For a look at Memeburn’s previous social media analysis from the Oscar Pistorius trial, we’ve covered the trial in February 2013, March 2014, April 2014 and September 2014. But that’s really just skimming the surface. Head on over to this search page for more coverage of the storied Oscar Pistorius trial and its social media implications.

Are there any interesting trends you’ve noticed on social media regarding the Oscar Pistorius sentencing? What is your opinion of the six-year sentence? Let us know in the comments below.

Feature image: David Jones via Flickr

Andy Walker, former editor


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