Social media, and productive discourse on Twitter

xkcd emotion comic social media

A friend of mine once remarked that we can either have democracy or the Internet, but not both. Even if the point is perhaps overstated, interactions on social media, and omnipresent clickbait, certainly contribute to the perception that there’s far more noise than signal on the Internet.

While it’s certainly possible to have productive conversations on social media, those seem – in my experience at least – to have become increasingly rare. Charlie Brooker once listed Twitter as his top pick in the category of video games (in the 2013 show How Videogames Changed the World), and it’s easy to see his point – the platform should perhaps simply be thought of as entertainment rather than as an opportunity for an exchange of ideas. Continue reading “Social media, and productive discourse on Twitter”

Ramaphosa, and the soft tyranny of low expectations

President Cyril Ramaphosa

South African social media have been even more intemperate than usual since Cyril Ramaphosa was elected ANC leader – and yes, I realise how implausible that might sound.

It nevertheless strikes me as true in light of the volume of comment I read calling for President Zuma’s head (sometimes quite literally), now that he was effectively a lame duck,  alongside the counter-claims of JZ’s supporters (or even simply the supporters of codified procedure, rather than fictions like a “recall” having any legal force). Continue reading “Ramaphosa, and the soft tyranny of low expectations”

Goree Island

Since South African Airways dropped Dakar as their regular refueling stop, getting to Goree Island (a fifteen-minute ferry ride off Dakar’s coast) can be quite a journey. It took around 24 hours for me, flying from CPT to JNB-NBO-ABJ, then DKR.

Eighteen bloggers from Uganda, Zimbabwe, DRC, South Africa and elsewhere have gathered for an annual workshop, thanks to the generosity of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, who brought us together as AfricaBlogging around three years ago. Continue reading “Goree Island”

Cyril Ramaphosa and the irrelevance of adultery

Those who think that politicians should be held to a higher moral standard than other influential people seem guilty of an inconsistency. The primary clue as to what should be expected of you is in your job title or description – if you’re a teacher, you should be judged on your teaching, and if you’re a President, you should be judged on how well you preside.

I realise that this is a simplification, in that it is sometimes the case that other factors should influence our assessment of your suitability for a role. But we would typically require some clear link between your “crime” and the job you are employed to perform. Continue reading “Cyril Ramaphosa and the irrelevance of adultery”

#Charlottesville – “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here”

There is something to be said for the idea that anti-fascist protesters can resort to violence too quickly. But this idea can be debated without endorsing or excusing fascism, which you do when you describe these acts of violence as morally equivalent. Continue reading “#Charlottesville – “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here””

Anecdotes versus data in public discourse

“The plural of anecdote is not data” is a phrase well-loved by scientific sceptics. Often attributed to Dr Ben Goldacre, but probably originating with Raymond WoIfinger, the phrase cautions us against the mistake of thinking that what you experience – or what you and your granny or friends experience – might not actually be representative of any significant trend, or give you valuable evidence regarding the causal efficacy or role of something you might regard as significant. Continue reading “Anecdotes versus data in public discourse”

As By Fire – Jonathan Jansen on the 2015/6 university protests

The Cape Town launch of Prof. Jonathan Jansen’s latest book, As by Fire: The End of the South African University, was held last week at the Book Lounge. I was invited to be the discussant and, having already read the book a few weeks ago and found it to be worthwhile, was pleased to accept.

On re-reading it in preparation for the discussion, my initial impression persisted: relative ‘insiders’ to the last few years of university politics and protests might not learn much that they didn’t know, while the general public certainly could. Continue reading “As By Fire – Jonathan Jansen on the 2015/6 university protests”