#SocialMediaBlackOut: South Africa, here’s everything you need to know

#socialmediablackout june 2017 south africa

If you were scrolling through your Twitter timeline Monday, you might’ve noticed the hashtag #SocialMediaBlackOut out the corner of your eye.

Don’t worry though. It isn’t some death knell for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — they’re probably still function as per normal come Wednesday. But there might be considerably fewer users from South Africa on them if the hashtag’s primary narrative is to be believed.

What is #SocialMediaBlackOut?

The thought of one might strike fear into amateur breakfast photographers, but the content isn’t the reason for the campaign. It’s largely how South Africans access said content.

#SocialMediaBlackOut can be seen as a spinoff of the #DataMustFall debate in South Africa, which came to prominence late last year.

The debate was reignited in February 2017 at the State of the Nation Address, as President Jacob Zuma announced that government would focus on dropping data prices in the country to benefit South Africa’s youth.

Another milestone was unearthed in April 2017 after the Competition Commission declined Cell C’s request to prosecute Vodacom and MTN — the country’s two largest mobile services providers — for price-fixing.

Last week, the latter also seemingly added fuel to the the conversation’s fire after it tweeted this.

Safe to say that people weren’t happy. But people weren’t exactly taking a stand either.

Five days later, the first tweet bearing the #SocialMediaBlackOut hashtag appeared, alongside #DataMustFall.

Tweeted by Johannesburg-based graphic designer and social media manager Ange Saint-Truth, the tweet became mildly viral on the social network.

It racked up over 550 retweets and 140 likes, but also prompted a slew of responses.

Why a #SocialMediaBlackOut?

That’s a good question, and we reached out to Saint-Truth for answers.

“Yesterday I logged onto social media and saw people complaining that data must fall,” she tells Memeburn.

“I also noticed how people kept looking to someone to fix the problem, instead of realising that united we can make a change. I realised that the power is in our hands to make a difference, so pitched an idea for a social media blackout, where no one should buy data for 24 hours and keep off social media.

“The purpose of that is two fold, firstly, networks would feel it in a loss of income and it would get their attention, secondly, many companies rely on social media advertising — but their advertising is redundant if no one sees it.”

Further explainer tweets followed.

Thus the hashtag and campaign was was born.

“The major point I wanted people to see is that we need to stop looking for someone to be the solution and learn to unite and become the solution,” Saint-Truth adds.

Does Twitter agree?

Judging by the responses we’ve seen on Twitter, it also seems that users are open to the idea.

Thanks to the below tweet, the sister hashtag #BlackOutWednesdays also began trending Tuesday morning, in full support of the idea.

“We are doing this for generations to come,” read the tweet.

Is a #SocialMediaBlackOut the solution?

Not entirely. It’s ultimately the telecommunications regulator Icasa — the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa — that has the final say in terms of data and voice pricing in South Africa. Questions have also been raised by the public on social media (in often ironic or mocking ways).

But Saint-Truth believes that the narrative spread through the hashtag is just the “beginning of a much larger debate”.

“I really believe if we looked within ourselves and began creating solutions it can influence so many other factors, we need to cultivate this attitude,” she tells Memeburn.

“I’ve always said that if we realise how powerful we are united, nothing is impossible. United we stand, divided we fall.”

How can you participate?

Good question. Simple answer.

As Saint-Truth mentioned earlier, participation includes feigning the purchase of data bundles for 24 hours and resisting the use of social media for the entirety of Wednesday 21 June (that’s midnight-to-midnight).

Are you taking part in the #SocialMediaBlackOut? Let us know in the comments below.

Andy Walker, former editor


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