‘Woke Twitter’ blew whistle on racist twits

Cape Town - It was “Woke Twitter” that alerted the country to several racist remarks made by Penny Sparrow, Chris Hart and Justin van Vuuren on Sunday.

The repercussions of the conversation in the Twittersphere were felt in the real world too, with Hart suspended as an analyst by Standard Bank and all three having charges laid against them.

It has become clear that Woke Twitter has become a consciousness movement worth taking note of and paying attention to.

But what is Woke Twitter?

Being “woke” refers to being socially and politically conscious. The term was brought to light by global movements such as #BlackLivesMatter in the US and closer to home, with the #RhodesMustFall campaign. This conscious collective usually mobilises through Twitter.

Being “woke” means seeing through the hype and become acutely aware of the “real issues”.

Woke Twitter is a faceless collective, mobilising to challenge traditionally dominant narratives using screen-grabs of offensive social media posts, creating hashtags which trend, and developing memes.

And it extends beyond race. Being woke also means challenging sex and gender stereotypes, among others.

The collective identifies and targets social media users who they deem to display any form of racism or gender discrimination.

The message is clear: They reject the narrative of the country as a Rainbow Nation and believe drastic action needs to be taken against all who stand in the way of true transformation.

In a radio interview, Shaka Sisulu - a vocal Twitter personality – said: “Laws need to be used as leverage to take racism to task... whites do not take enough part in achieving transformation.”

Twitter mobilisation is becoming more prevalent with hashtags that connect hundreds of thousands of users to trending topics.

These “twitactivists” – a portmanteau of “Twitter” and”activist” – end up causing real world effects, with targets not only facing public outrage, but even losing their jobs.

There are some who believe the “activism” could be taken too far.

The Cape Argus’ sister publication, the Daily News, reported on Tuesday that Sparrow’s daughter, Charmaine Crowie said she was “terrified” after receiving threatening phone calls related to her mother’s Facebook post.

The constitution states that all can exercise their rights, provided the rights of others are not infringed.

However, Sparrow’s right to freedom of speech infringed upon the right to human dignity, according to legal analyst Brenda Wardle.

“We must remember that free speech or even freedom of expression, unlike human dignity, is limited by specific clauses in the constitution.

“So what Penny Sparrow did was to 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.”

With increased connectivity, opinions are widely shared, and can offend a greater number of people.

The best advice from the online community? Stay woke.