Mz Lee on Black Twitter and the politics of social media in 2014

Thapelo Mosiuoa

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VIP caught up with Blogger, Graphic Designer, Social Media Content Manager and Tweleb Lerato Mannya a.k.a Mz Lee to talk about the year that 2014 has been from highlights to low-lights and the biggest events that have transpired on social media.   What has 2014 been like? What were the biggest highlights for you? It’s been […]

VIP caught up with Blogger, Graphic Designer, Social Media Content Manager and Tweleb Lerato Mannya a.k.a Mz Lee to talk about the year that 2014 has been from highlights to low-lights and the biggest events that have transpired on social media.


What has 2014 been like? What were the biggest highlights for you?

It’s been crazy; it’s been a year of chaos! We’ve seen girls go missing, planes disappearing and America going from this picture-perfect country to complete chaos. I’ve personally always seen America as the land of the free with equal opportunities for all – then one day I logged onto Twitter and I was like “WTF is going on here?”. That is the power of social media.


Has social media become more important in 2014?

Yes. What I’ve realized is that people often undermine the power of social media; personally I’ve gained a lot from social media. I’ve gained friends both locally and internationally. Social media is very powerful but people don’t want to acknowledge that because it’s very uncontrollable – making it potentially dangerous territory.


Has social media grown more ‘real’ in 2014?

I definitely think social media can reflect a society – to me social media has always been real. Many people undermine it’s power and influence and don’t want it to seem like it’s real; yet when you have a guy, for instance, who tweets about his girlfriend cheating on him then you have a bunch of people from all around the world reply, relate and say they feel the same, then you know it’s real.


How trustworthy is social media interaction?

Very trustworthy. You get to have real interactions with people. An example is the Mike Brown controversy. I logged into Twitter one day and I had no idea who Mike Brown was until I searched the hashtag and realized it’s a kid who was shot dead by the police. That changed my entire perspective on America because we get a lot of dressed up information about America in movies, the news and other traditional media – so we don’t get to see the real from real photographs and commentary, taken and made in real time. We get told that all Americans are patriotic and love their country but then you go on Twitter and you see that in actuality, black people in the US are suffering from many of the same challenges people face here in SA. Also, it exposes our prejudices, double standards and the complexities of society. African Americans have created this notion that they don’t want to belong to Africa and they just want to be American. They (naturally) don’t know their African roots but can often show indifference toward wanting to know them, which is very dangerous because the moment something happens in America we empathize with them. Just because they choose to disown their African heritage doesn’t mean we don’t understand their struggle. Still, this reminds me of something a friend of mine said: that South Africans often act like the Americans of Africa and when something happens in America we empathize with them – yet a few years ago we were attacking our own African brothers and sisters.


Has social media made the world ‘more real’?

The world has certainly definitely become more real because of social media. Now we’re seeing more perspective and the detailed aspect of things we didn’t fully understand; or that could get censored in the media. I didn’t see a single news clip about the Mike Brown shooting until it exploded onto social media. This is important for how we reflect as well. The other day I saw that Eric Garner’s dad was accused of inciting violence. I wondered how expressing your anger and hurt could be translated as ‘inciting violence.’ It’s the same thing with strike culture in SA. I used to think strikes were an inconvenience before I understood why we do it. Perspective is important. Often, the main theme around strikes in SA is that they’re detrimental to our economy, but this is all we know! How do you expect people to do better when you haven’t been taught how to do it? Why are we so quick to gravitate towards American culture and not familiarising ourselves with our own? We’ve also always endorsed the perception that there’s only one way of being South African but the twars, debates and exchanges on social media expose and debunk this.


WTF is Black Twitter?

*Laughs* Black Twitter is the central hub of credible, timeous and relevant information and recklessness! It’s basically chaos. It’s a microcosm of black communities because we discuss things that affect us as black people and we relate better to each other on such a free, uncensored platform. There’s also a lot of information being dispersed on Black Twitter, a lot of people assume it’s jokes all day, but if you follow the right people, that could be different.


Two words that capture the tone of Black Twitter?

As compared to white twitter: cynical, angry and funny. (Ed’s note: That’s three, we know.) Also, Black Twitter isn’t only for black people. People have this perception that white people don’t understand black culture or don’t want to understand it but how will they understand if we’re not willing to teach them so they can understand what your struggles are? How will they help you change the society that you need to change? It’s unfortunate that a lot of people will disagree with that because if we want to progress than we’re supposed to do it together, how can we just do it by ourselves?



What are the most recurrent topics on Black Twitter?

Black Twitter is very conversational because we talk about everything from politics to sex, to celebs and nudity. Basically anything and everything. Take the #NotSenzosDad thing for example, it was something light taken from something heavy that had happened. Our people have become accustomed to taking something like that and making it funny because it’s become almost like a coping mechanism. Whenever something bad happens we always need to to do that so it’s not like we’re mourning a lot. It took a lot away from Senzo’s funeral and that’s one of the few things that are problematic about Black Twitter: everything becomes a joke. Planes go missing, it’s a joke. It’s a very tricky space because you’re almost not allowed to show any emotion besides humour.


Biggest trends/events on social media for you?

There were a lot of social media/political events this year and think one of the major ones was the amount of engagement young people showed when reacting to how our leaders were behaving in parliament. We see our leaders’ behaviour in parliament and we think to ourselves “these are the people we’ve chosen to lead us!” That was the biggest one for me and Nkandla, which has been going on for a while – I don’t know if we still care about it anymore. There was also Oscar and Julius as well.


Does how South African society feel about politics reflect on social media?

I don’t think social media is an absolute insight into how the country feels about what’s happening in SA because a huge majority of the country still isn’t on social media. It can be insightful but it isn’t absolute.

Interesting political event/figure on social media for you?

Something interesting has been Fikile Mbalula and his attempt at being transparent and accessible through social media. I don’t personally follow him but he’ll pop up on my timeline from time to time and I just wonder what recklessness he’s getting up to now. You can be a public figure and have fun but you need to do it in a certain way. I have a problem with people coming across as condescending and I feel like sometimes in his jokes he comes across as really condescending. I question that because if I come to you as a leader and say I don’t agree with this I wonder if he will be condescending. I also question if it’s him managing his account because if he was being transparent than he’d be forthcoming with who is managing his account.


Has social media made politics ‘fun’?

Social media definitely made things fun and has created a light atmosphere around something that is otherwise quite serious. Social media is very relative because we’re not all the same. I could go on Twitter and talk about politics and because you have 140 characters or less at at time, you could potentially oversimplify things, which could potentially lead to misrepresentation. A good example is a conversation I saw on Twitter where a guy tweeted that if women talk about sex then they are promiscuous. When questioned further about it, the guy said he’s just saying ‘what most guys think.’ That’s a simplistic discussion for a very complex and contentious topic.


Highlights on social media for you?

One of the greatest things I experienced on Twitter was making genuine friends. People don’t appreciate the value of having genuine conversations anymore. One of my pet peeves about Black Twitter is that we talk about sex all day everyday! Question is: when are you actually doing it when you’re talking about it all day. *Laughs*


Can we use social media to hold politicians accountable?

I think so. There are many better conversations that can be had on social media – in the process holding politicians and institutions to account. The problem arises when we’re aware of misdemeanors that happen but don’t take action. If we feel like something is against the constitution what do we do about it? Social media could be a great platform to expose this, but has it been? The bright side is that social media is constantly evolving and changing so we’ll see in a few years if things get better. There’s so much knowledge to be shared on social media but there aren’t enough people online to receive that information. I think right now there are only about 9 million people active on social media so when those percentages change that’s when we’ll start to see real change in SA. We’re still in that one percent right now, it’s an elitist thing so it’s another tricky situation for our country.


What is a Tweleb?

*Laughs* A tweleb is someone who has a large following online, opinionated and multifaceted. People always assume twelebs are broke, have no jobs and sit at home all day having sex and tweeting. There’s a difference between celebs and twelebs a battle going on right now between celebs and twelebs. Celebs don’t like twelebs but they want conversations to be had around them, this is the point where you involve twelebs. There’s a line Cassper said in one of his songs that says “it’s funny when the twelebs get to acting like celebs”, I met him one day and I said it’s funny when the celebs get to acting like twelebs. He asked me about it and I told him to go think about it because he’s now suddenly above the rest of us. There aren’t any real systems because we, as twelebs, are personal friends so we know each other and we maintain these relationships. I’ve been denying that I’m a tweleb but I’ve started to own it because there are many advantages to it. It is a problem when politicians start acting like a twelebs. *Laughs*