The passing of African power house, activist Winnie Madikizela – Mandela attracted “breaking!” online headlines from news houses across the world. Once again, the virality of social media allowing us all to catch the news of this terrible loss in real time. Eliminating the need for access to the sometimes tiring press releases, telegrams or even tasking confirmation phone calls to sources. I bet not even the person who said that “bad news travels fast” anticipated how much more fast it could happen. Or generally how fortunate a certain generation would be to access information by just logging into a personal account on the world-wide web.
So is it possible that this same quick access to information has encouraged so little exercise of the brain muscles, rendering us probably the most complacent, plagiarist generation yet? Or is the information overload a burden on our ability to consume? It seems like a small issue; even not-that-serious. Yet it continues to grow into this malignant tumor which might be inoperable at the time of full diagnosis. From the rather hilarious, “tweet thieves,” to copy and paste blog posts; embarrassingly shallow responses to bag the online popularity vote; and profiles on people we have not bothered to contact. Even xeroxed copy from websites onto presidential accounts!
But most appalling, and perhaps the biggest sign that we are skating downhill at breakneck speed is that a number of people in news houses have adopted the reproduce-and-go method. “Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife passes on at 81.” I read many such a headline in a mixture of confusion, anger and exasperation. Not so much shock, because this womyn’s legacy has always been downplayed, downtrodden and marred with dirt right from the apartheid system, feeding into post-apartheid narratives. Not to mention, this is not the first, neither the last incident in which a womyn’s worth is attached to her current or past romantic relations with a man. So you might even think I’d be accustomed to it and not that angry. But is it so far-fetched to expect a better announcement of the passing of a revolutionary giant on whose shoulders the entire South Africa and many stood and still stands? An ungovernable leader who did not once surrender to her oppressors. A womyn who at the cost of her own spirit saw to it that the world did not forget about another so often glorified leader who had been literally thrown mid sea. This scratch-the-surface information is documented and accessible in books, documentaries, academic papers and even Hollywood films.
How then does the jackpot headline become, “Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife has died?” Especially when same ex-wife received an honorary degree from our highest institution of learning just two months ago. Where do we place a distinction between a media report and the average social media user with bundles and a pedestrian thought on the latest? Sure, we might argue that in this era of click-bait where news sites are competing with gossip sites for readers, a Mandela mention might have some more people interested in opening the link. Yet still, her name is already hyphened with Mandela’s. Besides, to even imply that readers might not be interested enough in Winnie, let’s add that a Nelson somewhere, might be insulting to one’s audience. Unless of course like Lydia Namubiru muses here, media personnel might be mostly uninformed on what and who else Winnie Mandela was apart from the ex-wife. After all, even some of our often coveted, model news houses in the West chose similar headlines. If the drill was to copy whatever they are saying, then who can blame us, right?
The KAS organised Social Media Conference often brings to debate the “Social media vs. Traditional media” question. To which many respectable comrades respond by highlighting the half-baked nature of news content on the former. Now maybe a good time for the latter to deliberately guard against of falling into that narrative. If not to be the information leaders that we have come to often painfully expect, then to at the very least, avoid being categorised with the unwise. That, or we can all grit our teeth and wait on the latest being brought to us, live from a timeline near you.