TIRED of censure by the biggest social media platform in the world, a Durban-born woman has quit her day job and is building her own social media platform to compete with the likes of Facebook.
Mandisa Khanyile, 34, a Joburg-based gender activist and mother of one, has co-founded DotAfro, a pro-black social media platform. The platform is not too dissimilar from the Facebooks of this world, offering users video, text and photo functions.
Where DotAfro does differ from Facebook is that it offers users the opportunity to have voice-only status updates, it has a status dislike button and censors less.
Khanyile recently quit her job as a recruitment specialist to pursue her new journey. She has co-founded the business with Tumelo Baloyi and Thato Irish Sogo. All three are directors of the business.
Baloyi is the IT brains in the business, Sogo is entrusted with the financial affairs of the enterprise and pursuing income streams, while Khanyile herself is responsible for the operations.
To put DotAfro to the test, we conducted the interview via a chat on the platform and it appeared smooth enough, bar a few teething problems.
In all honesty, it must have been a poor data connection on either this writer’s side or on Khanyile’s, but once we were online there were no hiccups.
Not nearly as busy as a Facebook - which of course has billions of people registered - the new platform has a number of community forums building on the group.
Like Twitter, DotAfro makes sure you know what your friends and those around you are chatting about, offering a “trends watch” segment.
Khanyile, who had to quit her law studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal due to a problem with finances, said the platform was growing steadily at 23% new users a week in its beta test mode.
“I just want to say that niche group social networks are to be found all over the world - we have them in countries like China and Russia, yet when you open one to deal with the experiences of black people, all of a sudden all hell breaks loose. Pro-black does not equal anti-white,” Khanyile said.
Khanyile has been blocked in some form or another at least eight times in the recent past for expressing herself on topics such as #MenAreTrash - a hashtag that has been championed by feminists worldwide on Twitter in recent years to highlight patriarchy.
“I was banned on Facebook eight times over Men are Trash, so has Ntokozo Qwabe over #FeesMustFall and Andile Mngxitama for talking about land. It’s a norm for black activists,” she said.
“We want a platform for conversation, not a messaging service like Twitter or Snapchat, with limited characters and devoid of content. DotAfro is the first to launch voice status updates and our site is also the first to launch genderless profiles,” said Khanyile.
I asked what the big deal was about genderless profiles and whether other races were allowed on the platform.
Khanyile answered: “We believe in a genderless society, the only way we can end patriarchy, misogyny and gender-based violence is to have a society that does not recognise gender, but just people. So we said ‘let’s start it in our virtual community’,” she said.
“(People of colour) want a platform free of censorship; they want to be able to articulate themselves in more than just text,” said Khanyile.
The former Mowat Park Girls’ High School entrepreneur said the idea was born in May this year out of frustration and by June she had launched a beta version for the test phase.
The second beta test phase went public in September and she is happy with the gradual growth.
“We chose to open our beta test to the public because this site must be tailored to the needs of people of colour, so we wanted them to tell us what they wanted from it,” said Khanyile.
Social media sites and websites rely heavily on adverts and data for income and Khanyile says they aren’t veering off the path.
“Yes we are using the same model. Our user numbers have grown at 23% a day since we launched the beta - we are doing well.
“We have already secured advertisers so early in the game.”
And what’s the ultimate goal for the platform and the end-game - to topple Facebook?
“When DotAfro is the go-to platform for people of colour globally. We use social media to ignite change in how the world treats us as people of colour. When we finally start working towards formulating and executing the black agenda,” she said.
I asked Khanyile if this meant “it’s a black-only platform?”
She responded: “White people who want to make a positive contribution towards the black agenda are welcome. As you saw (during registration), we don’t ask your race group at sign-up”.