Of Elephants and Men: Understanding Gender-Based Hate Speech in Zambia's Social Media Platforms

Of Elephants and Men: Understanding Gender-Based Hate Speech in Zambia's Social Media Platforms

Sam Phiri (Department of Media and Communication Studies, University of Zambia, Zambia) and Lisebo Mokorosi (Department of Gender Studies, University of Zambia, Zambia)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2815-0.ch006
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Ideally, social media are positive agents for modernization, empowerment, and gender equity in developing countries. This chapter scrutinizes that assumption by reflecting upon social media representation of leading Zambian women politicians at critical times in their political lives. It highlights the language used in blogs by critically examining its meanings through discourse and rhetoric analysis. Then, it is argued that social media are now extensively used to switch the tide against women occupation of social spaces. The chapter concludes that social media are avenues for hate speech and new glass ceilings and have been appropriated by patriarchy as oppressive tools in sub-Saharan Africa.
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Following the explosion of the internet in the 1990s, a new form of exchanging knowledge and information emerged unto the global stage. More people started swapping information through internet based platforms which structurally, are nothing more than networks of inter-connected systems of computers across the world.

By 2019, there were more than 4 billion people on the internet (Intenet World Stats, 2019). Further, the popular public platforms like Facebook, attract about 1.56 billion active users daily (Facebook, 2019), Twitter has 313 million active new monthly users (Twitter, 2017), and YouTube logs-in 1.9 billion people daily. In that way, YouTube generates more than a billion hours of viewing per day in more than 80 world languages. In the USA alone, YouTube consumers outnumber the people watching any television network in that country (YouTube, 2019). These are phenomenal figures which confound mental images of any invention in the history of humankind.

However, although in Africa Twitter and YouTube statistics are difficult to come by, internet penetration is estimated at 35% of the African population. This is about 474, 120, 562 active internet users (Intenet World Stats, 2019). Out of these, in Zambia some 7, 248, 772 million people, or 40% of the 18 million population, use the internet. Among them are the 1.6 million who are on Facebook.

What is important though is that the internet is the backbone on which are built the many social media platforms currently in use across the world. As Picard (2009) argues, social media are easy and less expensive avenues for discussion and for “sociation” (Lindgren, 2017). These discussions are conducted in ways which are usually outside the ethical parameters that are customarily present in mainstream media institutions. These factors, on their own, have contributed to the popularity of social media to an extent that they are now “central platforms for public expression” (Wasbold, 2018).

Consequently, the popularity of social media platforms, has forced social theorists to firstly, acknowledge this new phenomenon and then, to frisk their minds, trying to define the dynamics of what is going on in society. Terms like ‘computer-mediated communication’, ‘user-generated content’, or simply social media (Fuchs, 2017) have since emerged.

But what is also happening, through the availability of the internet, is that more and broader open spaces for critical debates around fundamental structural aspects about global and local communication systems are taking place. New social facts have emerged while old ones are consolidated. These social facts consist of rules, regulations, meanings and understandings which are constantly produced by social media prosumers (Fuchs, 2017; Lindgren, 2017). In fact, as McChesney (2007) argues, communication systems are “radically” being transformed into a “more democratic force” which opposes anyone scared of “genuine democracy.”

McChesney’s argument assumes that through the internet, social change is being determined by forces outside the frameworks of previously embedded communication structures. As Lee (1995) with regard to social movements argues, the impetus for change, is now “outside and in opposition” to institutionalized, hierarchical, and non-democratic structures.

Further, Lee (1995) maintains that any form of democratic communication requires the re-organization of public communication so as to “guarantee the right of all individuals and subcultures to participate in the construction of the public cultural truth.” Public cultural truths being defined through a consensus about what is true, what a group’s history means, and what Lindgren (2017) refers to as social facts.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Hate Speech: Any form of expression intended to vilify, humiliate, or incite hatred against a group or class of people.

Equity: The quality of being fair and impartial.

Kgotla: A village-level forum for policy decision-making, defining political and development options, resolving conflicts, and a site for civil juridical litigations.

Gender Hate Speech: A form of violence against a person based on her or his sex or gender.

Internet: An electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world.

Language Rights: The human and civil rights concerning the individual and collective right to choose the language or languages for communication in a private or public atmosphere.

Social Justice: Justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.

Social media: Refers to websites and applications that are designed to allow people to share content quickly, efficiently, and in real-time.

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