21/06/2017 12:16 SAST | Updated 21/06/2017 12:55 SAST

Just Switch Off All Your Data, A Social Media Shutdown On Wednesdays Will Not Work

For data to fall, it would take much more than simply staying away from social media.



The hashtags #SocialMediaShutdown and #SocialMediaBlackout has been topping Twitter trends from the early hours of Wednesday morning.

This comes after some users of social media called for a social media stay-away every Wednesday in an effort to push mobile data costs down.

The fact that the trend is so high up means many users did not heed the call.

But experts believe it won't do much to affect telecoms companies like MTN and Vodacom anyway.

Entrepreneur and Tech entrepreneur, Andile Masuku, told HuffPost South Africa that social media is a drop in the ocean when it comes to data revenue for telecoms companies. When asked how effective a social media shut down would be, he replied: "Not at all."

"Access to high-speed broadband in South Africa is still exclusive and elitist. A vast majority of people aren't on the internet, let alone social media," he said.

Part of an elite
Masuku said everyone on social media needs to be aware that they are part of an elite and so from a numbers perspective, the telcos won't feel a thing. If people really want to hurt revenue providers get from data, they would have to go to their settings and switch it off completely. But even then, the companies make a lot of revenue from other streams.

Masuku said from observing conversations on social media about the high cost of data, people were making a mistake by comparing ADSL and Fibre costs to mobile. He said there are several ways to access broadband and some are cheaper than others. Fibre and mobile are two different businesses for telcos and mobile data is more expensive.

Masuku used the example of water, saying people cannot expect water that is distributed publically and Pellegrino are not the same because of the kind of production that makes it possible for the products to be available. The Italian water brand goes through extensive processes of distilling, packaging and branding to make it high-end. It's more expensive to produce and more investment has gone into and so it will cost more.

"You just cannot compare it," he said.

Telecoms companies have put in too much money to the development of infrastructure for mobile data, and they need to make returns on that investment. "They do not exist for the public good, they must maximise their shareholder value," Masuku said.

This he said was an important thing to note, particularly in an era where South Africans demand good quality service from their providers.

Data divide
Speaking to eNCA on Wednesday morning, Arthur Goldstuck, founder of Worldwide Worx, said the problem is that the data must fall campaign is not nuanced enough. He said we have a data divide in South Africa.

"Data has fallen for the wealthy or for those who can afford to buy bundles upfront as well as for those who use fixed line, ADSL or fibre. The cost of data is actually quite cheap on those platforms," he said.

Goldstuck said those paying the most are those on prepaid and in lower socio-economic brackets.

"If only those on prepaid are boycotting social media today, it's not going to have a big impact on the networks. The campaign really has to be across the digital divide," he said.

Goldstuck said the best way to tackle data falling would be to go the regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), as they could cap the cost of data.

"There's one other element that seems to be missed, it's that when you do buy a data bundle and go out of bundle you suddenly pay these incredibly high rates so you're being punished for being a bigger user of data," he said.

This doesn't happen in other industries, he said.

"This must be the only industry in the world punishing people for being better customers," Goldstuck said.

So what's the bottom line? The social media shutdown clearly needs to shift gears if it's going to be effective.