A Twitter account created in November last year has fuelled toxic dialogues on the social media platform aimed at debasing foreign nationals in South Africa.
This according to the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change’s (CABC) interim report released on Monday.
The report investigated content, users, and tracked the “intentional promotion of xenophobic conversation” relating to Twitter in South Africa.
The report isolated a handful of particularly toxic accounts, most prominent of which is the @uLerato_pillay account, which was created in November 2019.
CABC director of dialogue facilitation Stef Snel told The Citizen that before the Lerato Pillay account was created and a subsequent network established, xenophobic conversations on Twitter were averaging at around 250 posts per day.
Since then, xenophobic posts have increased 120 times, averaging at 30,000 posts a day, and on busy days, peaking at 80,000 posts.
“This amounts to gross application of the natural xenophobia narrative on South African Twitter,” Snel said.
“What we need to appreciate is that the Lerato Pillay network ensures that every bad news story involving a foreign national is boosted by sharing, tweeting and retweeting by the network.
“It’s like the ability to make a mountain out of a molehill,” he explained.
South Africa’s overwhelming societal issues, including xenophobia, are fuelled by fear. Snell drew parallels to US President Donald Trump’s contentious #MakeAmericaGreatAgain campaign in the lead-up to him becoming president. This campaign was also directed at people’s fears by building xenophobia towards foreign nationals, while promising salvation, Snel explained.
“Xenophobia is a serious and growing issue in South Africa with a violent history. The people behind this are exploiting South Africans’ hardship and fears blaming foreign nationals,” Snel lamented.
But despite the CABC’s proof that the Lerato Pillay network is pushing a negative xenophobic agenda, the CABC cannot shut the account down. Only Twitter has the authority to do so, should they feel the account violates their guidelines, Snel said.
He said the interim report has been published in the media for authorities to follow-up on, but that so far, no authorities have engaged with the CABC.
The CABC also does not know who exactly is behind the Lerato Pillay account, but said it was likely there was more than one person in charge of tweeting.
Frustrations experienced by citizens of South Africa, including a sense of helplessness with increased corruption allegations within government, and steady economic decline, has resulted in some South Africans turning to foreign nationals with suspicion.