Social media obscures the line between public and private

The divorce of Tokyo Sexwale, the South African Human Settlements Minister, caused a stir on Twitter with media commentators saying the line between private and public is being blurred.

Apparently the news of the divorce initially emerged from British media via the Telegraph in an article titled South Africa scandalized as Tokyo Sexwale files for divorce.

Chris Moerdyk, described as a veteran media analyst, said the Sexwale story proves the information chain has changed, giving more power to rumour.

“The mass media no longer controls the news agenda as much as they did in the past,” said Anton Harber, a media academic. Both him and Moerdyk believe the conventional media will have to get used to its role being usurped by a form of media that is more immediate.

Mordyk said any type of celebrity will confirm it is impossible to “keep anything private” and that through Facebook, especially Twitter, commenters do not necessarily need to be sure of their facts.

While Anton Harber believes social media is deteriorating privacy, he believes the difficulty social media presents in keeping public information quiet is a positive fact.

Harber added: “Social media does mean that there is much less control over the flow of information and that people can push things into the public arena.

“I say for better because stories of public interest have become much harder to suppress, and I say for worse because it can be very intrusive into private space.”

Moerdyk said newspapers experience difficulty in reaching the youth since they do not read newspapers or listen to the radio, but get their information from social media by communicating with hundreds of people around the world.

He added Twitter has become useful to journalists who use it to draw readers to their stories as well as whistleblowers looking for a forum. However, he said it is unfortunate that context and background are often overlooked when followers on Twitter look no further than the tweet.

The Telegraph article described the relationship between Tokyo Sexwale and Judy van Vuuren as beginning with “smuggled love notes and secret games of footsie in the political prisoners’ camp and ended, a year before South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, with their marriage,” and that it was “a marriage made in post apartheid heaven”.

The surge in Twitter comments showed a divided sense of sympathy. Some felt sorry for Sexwale since he was married in community of property while others supported van Vuuren saying she deserved a large settlement for her support during the struggle days when “Tokyo had nothing”.

Posted in: Social Media

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