Atwitter over social media

Zandile Mbabela

THE social media boom in South Africa has given many people access to an influential tool for expression, although most of the country’s journalists fail to make use of it for reporting purposes.

This is according to South Africa’s digital guru and managing director of Worldwide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck, who will be guest lecturing new media students at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth today.

While last week’s Mobility 2012 study showed a significant rise in the use of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), Twitter and Facebook from cellphones, it found journalists were not using the platform correctly or to their advantage.

Goldstuck said the dramatic growth in social media and instant messaging saw close to seven million people on Facebook and two million using Twitter on their cellphones.

“That’s quite scary considering how many people are sitting there with a tool for self expression wherever they go. But the problem with those journalists sitting with that tool is that they think that when they’re expressing themselves it’s social media journalism, but it’s not. They are simply doing what everyone else is doing – expressing themselves,” he said.

“It’s only when you link that back to solid reportage that it becomes social media journalism. If [they] write an article, however, and tweet about it and people respond and [they] give them more insight into the article via Twitter or Facebook, that becomes closer to social media journalism.

“Social media can also be used to ask people for input or to say you’ve come across something and ask around for more information, making it a research tool.”

The Mobility 2012 study – based on interviews with a mixed sample of South African adult cellphone users – showed a 14% growth in BBM users and the WhatsApp messaging service going from non-existent to attracting 26% of cellphone users in 18 months.

The research also revealed that cellphone owners used 50% more of their budget on data than before.

Goldstuck said a social media revolution took place in 2010 as smartphones exploded onto the scene.

Until then some journalists tended not to be on Facebook or Twitter.

“Journalists tend to be very technophobic…and [end up] getting caught way behind the curve when it comes to social media,” he said.

He said he hoped universities’ new media courses would contribute to steering away from traditional media and incorporating social media trends in modern-day journalism.

“In 2011 we saw the power in social media changing people’s lives with the Arab Spring and how it was brought to our attention through YouTube,” he said.

“So instead of putting traditional media up against social media, the former needs to play a bigger role in trying to curate that kind of content.”

Goldstuck has established trends in internet growth in the country and his research has been used to gauge the country’s internet usage.

He said the shift in internet usage would see an upward spike from next year into “something almost unrecognisable from three years ago”.

“There will a massive shift in what is possible in internet usage,” Goldstuck said.

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