THE SOCIAL MEDIA ECOLOGY OF SPATIAL INEQUALITY IN CAPE TOWN: TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM

Alex Gwaze, Tzu Ting Hsu, Tanja Bosch, Sidney Luckett

Abstract


While the international community considers Cape Town a ‘modern city’, high levels of inequality persist as a consequence of post-independence apartheid practices. The legacy of apartheid spatial polarisation—gentrification, infrastructural inequalities and affordable housing, has sparked ongoing debate in mainstream media with Cape Town finding itself at the centre of the contention. Cape Town-based activists, organisations and campaigners have opted to use social media platforms to advertise and coordinate protest action for the desegregation of urban land. This paper identified Reclaim the City, Ndifuna Ukwazi and Future Cape Town as the key actors using social media to campaign for spatial equality in Cape Town. As Juris (2012) argues, social media has contributed to an emerging logic of aggregation involving the assembling of masses of individuals from diverse backgrounds to come together in physical spaces. Social media platforms, therefore, become a “temporary performative terrain,” a space for activists to make their struggles visible and to mobilise “crowds of individuals” through viral communication flows (Juris, 2012: 267). Over the past decade and a half, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have become an integral part of contemporary communicative practices, providing personal, political, entertainment, sport, technological and scientific information to local communities, often before conventional media outlets like radio, television and print. “The quick rise of social media platforms in the first decade of this century was part of a more general networked culture where information and communication got increasingly defined by the affordances of web technologies” (Van Dijk & Poell, 2013: 5). Focusing on three of the most popular social networking sites in South Africa: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, this paper explores how social media has been used to foster awareness, share information and initiate discourse around spatial inequality in Cape Town. Using a combination of quantitative data scraping approaches and qualitative content analysis, this paper explores the central question: What are the prevailing narratives on social media around spatial inequality (including issues related to affordable housing) in Cape Town? The paper argues that the social media ecology of spatial inequality is complex and cosmopolitan due to the interconnectivity and global reach of social media platforms. In order to connect the local agenda to the immediate community and foster international awareness, activists, organisations and campaigners have choreographed their own cohesive narrative that they frequently promote in public social media spaces.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5789/11-1-282

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