THE BLOG
18/06/2018 10:54 SAST | Updated 18/06/2018 10:54 SAST

Ferial, You 'Deserve A Bullet In The Head'

This is how race rhetoric liberates online hate.

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As a mouthy woman, I've long grown accustomed to being told to shut up or to being shouted at.

As an editor, you have to have opinions and values, but these can get you into trouble and as a woman editor, there is a constituency of patriarchs who insist on one being the quiet woman. There is the crew who don't want you to rock the boat; the crew (of men) who want to speak for you (I only discovered the term "mansplaining" recently but have experienced it for decades) and those who just want you to shut up, even if they have to invoke God's help to do so.

Nothing beats the nasty of Twitter and social media. This wonderful tool to share, to build community and virality has turned mean. It peddles hate and the impact is worse, in my experience, because it is so personal.

Once, I got into such trouble with the Muslim community for publishing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad (as an act of information not of provocation), that a group of men took to running a chain prayer wishing ill-health and death upon me.

READ: SA editor threatened over cartoon - BBC

It was nasty. But nothing beats the nasty of Twitter and social media. This wonderful tool to share, to build community and virality has turned mean. It peddles hate and the impact is worse, in my experience, because it is so personal.

The attacks are on your phone, increasingly an appendage for many of us. It's in your space and the attacks are often viral. My friend and colleague, Rana Ayyub, in India, picked up a hate army of millions in India because she has written scathingly about Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's time as the chief minister in Gujarat state. Recently, a "deep fake" campaign superimposed her image onto that of a porn star in a video that went viral.

READ: UN experts ask govt to protect journalist Rana Ayyub from online threats

It's a whole new front of hate for women journalists around the world and in South Africa, we get our fair share.

There's the whole Bell Pottinger and Gupta axis of misinformation and trolling, but the trolling online army of the Economic Freedom Fighters are a rising threat. For one, they are not a paid army easy to unmask and disarm like we did with the Gupta bots. Bots are false automated attack accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Trolls are regarded as live and authentic accounts who attack perceived enemies of politicians or political parties. They can be organised or spontaneous; paid and unpaid. Since the EFF has begun its anti-Indian campaign, the attacks have grown on those of us who are regarded as "Indian journalists" in the words of the party's leader Julius Malema, who singled out the group in his weekend speech.

The attacks are on your phone, increasingly an appendage for many of us. It's in your space and the attacks are often viral.

And the knock-on effect of this campaign has been an exponential growth in attacks, some so garden variety they are benign, but some so sick they can be dangerous. Not all are linked to the EFF campaign, but what it has done, in my opinion, is to liberate the hate. On Thursday, as Johannesburg was gripped by electricity cuts after sabotage, I had published a Twitter thread on Eskom and why workers are paying the price of years of corruption and capture.

On Eid morning, my day was almost ruined when this one hit my DM (direct message). From a "Travor" with the handle @Mbuyazi04. It read: "Stop misleading pple u bitch...fuck u and go back to Europe...this is not your country asshole...u deserve a bullet in the head." I snapped shut my device and didn't look at it for two days. When I scrolled "Travor's" timeline it included a selfie of himself.

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The hate's not even hidden any longer and it is right in our direct messages. What happens when it jumps out of the ether into the real world? And what is the responsibility of political leaders to reduce rhetoric that can inflame hate?