This past Sunday, it was “Woke Twitter” that alerted the country to various racist remarks and comments made by Chris Hart, Penny Sparrow, and Justin van Vuuren on Twitter. The repercussions of the conversation were not limited to the Twittersphere however, but were translated to the real world as well. Shortly after the remarks were brought to the attention of Standard Bank where Chris Hart works as an analyst, he was promptly suspended from his position. All three individuals currently have charges laid against them. It is becoming increasingly clear that Woke Twitter is a consciousness movement worth paying attention to and taking note of. But what exactly is Woke Twitter and what does it stand for?
Someone who is “woke” is considered to be politically and socially conscious. The term was first brought to light by movements such as Black Lives Matter in the US, and the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. This conscious collective tends to mobilize mainly through Twitter, and sometimes other online social media platforms as well. A person who is “woke” sees through the hype and becomes acutely aware of the “real issues”. Woke Twitter is a faceless collective movement, aimed at mobilizing the populace in order to challenge traditionally dominant storylines by using screen-gabs of offensive social media posts, developing memes, and creating hashtags which trend.
Woke Twitter’s message is unmistakable. They firmly reject the narrative of the country as a “Rainbow Nation” and believe serious action needs to be taken against those who stand in the way of true, legitimate, change and transformation. Using Twitter as a mobilization tool is becoming much more prevalent, allowing people to use hashtags which connect them with hundreds of thousands of other users who are posting about the same trending topics.
Is it possible for this type of activation to be taken too far? Some seem to think so.
The Daily News, which is The Cape Argus’ sister publication, reported on Tuesday that the daughter of Sparrow, Charmaine Crowie said she was “terrified” after she received various phone calls of a threatening nature related to her mother’s Facebook post. It must be noted that the United States Constitution states that everyone is entitled to exercise their rights, including the right of free speech, provided that the rights of others are not infringed upon in the process.
Legal analyst Brenda Wardle argues that Sparrow’s misuse of her right to freedom of speech infringed upon the rights of others to basic human dignity. In a recently released statement, Brenda explained, “So what Penny Sparrow did was prejudice the rights of all black South Africans by equating them to monkeys, apes and animals…simply put, she unlawfully, intentionally and seriously impaired the dignity of black people by using racially offensive language.”
Whether you agree or disagree with Wardle’s assessment of the situation, there are many other legal analysts who would consider her argument sound. With the rising popularity of social media platforms like Twitter that drastically increase connectivity, opinions and comments are widely shared, and have potential to offend a far greater number of people than ever before. Perhaps now more than ever, sound judgment and discretion need to be practiced by all who interact with others online through social media.
Watch Brenda Wardle on BBC World News