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#SocialMediaBlackOut ironically trends on Twitter in South Africa

Yesterday we wrote about #SocialMediaBlackOut — a hashtag that trended on South Africa’s Twitter timeline for much of the week. Today it culminate in a 24-hour boycott of all social media activities. But judging by my timeline, some users aren’t playing ball.

The hashtag, which appeared on Monday as a spinoff of #DataMustFall — aims to lurch people into taking action against steep data prices in South Africa.

As a campaign, the blackout centres on two notions. Firstly, if users refrain from purchasing data, it affects telecommunication companies’ bottom line. Secondly, not camping on social media for a day renders social advertising campaigns redundant.

While both points make sense to some degree, people aren’t staying true to the hashtag itself. And Twitter users (who ironically aren’t supposed to be using Twitter at all) are seemingly well aware of this.

“Everyone supporting the social media shutdown is tweeting bout it instead of being offline. Mara why?” read one tweet.

And yes, we do see the irony.

The hashtag is also, at the time of writing, trending in South Africa. If people continue to tweet about a trending topic, it’s going to continue to trend.

So what’s the problem with #SocialMediaBlackOut?

That’s a great question, and can be answered in a number of ways.

Firstly, hashtags live and breathe on Twitter. If 140 characters is the blood of the network, hashtags are the veins. It’s how information is organised and structured, and makes Twitter a notable way of tracking social movements and current events.

The #ArabSpring, #FeesMustFall and even the #OccupyWallSt movements all gained traction through conversation on social media, not silence.

Read more: #FeesMustFall: how SA students are using social to subvert traditional media

This then puts the spotlight on the hashtag itself, #SocialMediaBlackOut. It doesn’t address the real issue at heart — data prices –in its name, and thus somewhat deflects attention away from its intended message.

Compare this to #DataMustFall: a hashtag that piggybacks on the #MustFall meme that swept through South Africa in the past two years. Users also know what #DataMustFall’s message entails simply by glancing at it, at least based on the meme.

#SocialMediaBlackOut? Not so much.

Ultimately, the campaign might be working on the likes of Facebook and Instagram. Few if any mentions of the hashtag can be found on either.

That’s definitely not the case on Twitter.

Nevertheless, the hashtag has spurned conversation surrounding the relationship of consumers to their data providers, the nature of social media’s relationship to its users, and the notion of the internet as a basic human right.

Author | Andy Walker: Editor

Andy Walker: Editor
Camper by day, run-and-gunner by night, Andy prefers his toast like his coffee -- dark and crunchy. Specialising in spotting the next big Instagram cat star, Andy also dabbles in smartphone and game reviews over on Gearburn. More