Support, critism for protests on social media

A key aspect of the Imizamo Yethu housing protests has been social media, and Hout Bay’s two most popular Facebook pages, Hout Bay Organised (HBO) and Hout Bay complete, have been flooded with insights and ideas – some good and some not so good.

Both HBO and Hout Bay complete have attracted new followers as events have unfolded.

Their respective administrators, Matt Mercer and Steve Belcher, have been especially busy, ensuring that language and opinion are kept within guidelines and have not spilt over into hate speech.

Emotions have run high, particularly as criminal elements among the protesters have vandalised private and public property.

However, on both pages there has also been an outpouring of support for the fire victims living on the temporary accommodation sites, with residents believing conditions are not suitable for human habitation.

But there has also been a lot of feeling that protesters have “betrayed” those residents who assisted them with food and clothing donations in the wake of the fire in March. “It has been an evolving situation,” Mr Mercer said.

“One of the concerns has been that the City has not been issuing progress reports on developments on the field and the super-blocking process in IY, but we have posted updates from the City. Perhaps it has been a case that community leaders are not disseminating this information to their community, or perhaps they are pushing for different agendas themselves.”

Mr Mercer felt that with all the donations that had poured in for fire victims, Hout Bay had been in a “good space” before the protests.

“A lot of people have been able to distinguish between the protesters and the rioters, but when events like this happen, people do tend to show a lot of fear. You get a lot of fear-based comments, and you have to keep an eye on that.

“The last thing we want to do is provoke people. But I’ve been fortunate on HBO in that I have a group of between 100 and 200 champions who alert me to any potentially dangerous posts. They will tag me and say ‘Matt, this post is getting out of hand’.”

Some residents have pointed out that such posts had provoked a few protesters, but Mr Mercer said he did not have to remove too many posts.

“Typically those posts come from people outside of Hout Bay. I even had one from a guy in Germany. They’re trolls, but in Hout Bay many people have knowledge of the situation and know what they can say. HBO encourages dialogue, but we ask our followers to adhere to our rules. There were posts in support of protesters inciting violence, but we weeded them out.”

Mr Belcher, whose page now has more than
7 000 followers, said a lot of Hout Bay complete’s users expressed disgust at the “disgraceful, concentration camp conditions” at the Hout Bay sports complex.

“We have users from all Hout Bay’s communities, and so people are very aware of what is being written or said about them. What I found interesting is that some residents did not even know what ‘all the fuss was about’ in terms of the protests.

“I was even accused of scare-mongering at one point, when obviously the situation was very serious,” he said.

“There has been a lot of criticism of the City, with people saying ‘Why didn’t you tell us’ about the situation on the fields. A lot of our followers have said if they were more aware, they would have stood side by side with the protesters in order for the situation to be addressed. For me, what we can take out of this is that we should build a new Hout Bay, where there’s not three communities but one.”