A Cosatu-affiliated union has been left red-faced after releasing a media statement that construed a Mail & Guardian story about a fake Facebook profile for Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven as an “unlettered and unpalatable attack”.
“Perhaps, it is ideal that we must accelerate the realisation of government instruments such as Media Appeal Tribunal to deal with media houses that may attempt to misuse their space for unsound and/or harmful writings,” said the statement.
The statement, put out by the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), was mailed to several newspapers including City Press, the Star and the Daily Sun a few hours after the M&G hit news stands on Friday.
It stated that the article by M&G journalist Tarryn Harbour undermined the movement’s efforts to address genuine issues that affect workers.
It seems Popcru itself is not entirely sure who to blame, only that blame must be apportioned. It was not clear from the statement whether the main subject of Popcru’s ire was the M&G or Facebook, or how a media appeals tribunal would be effective in regulating a social media platform such as Facebook.
Popcru spokesperson Norman Mampane would not elaborate further on the statement but was adamant that Facebook should be regulated.
“They can’t have their own rules. Such things should be regulated because we cannot allow an attack on our leaders,” he said before ending the call.
But the man at the centre of the incident, Patrick Craven, said although he welcomed the supportive spirit of Popcru’s statement, he was “puzzled as to precisely what they’re getting at” when it brought up the media tribunal.
“Even if there were a media tribunal, I’m sure it wouldn’t cover things like Facebook pages,” he said.
Craven, who admits to being “not a particularly IT person”, said a number of people have already come forward to assist him in having the profile removed from Facebook. “Facebook has got a lot to answer for here. They need to tighten up their procedures. You can’t do this,” he said.
Craven said that while he has no problem with the use of satire, he disagreed with the practice of impersonating people, saying: “You can use satire without stealing somebody else’s identity.”
Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of technology research organisation World Wide Worx, said Popcru’s reaction highlights a staggering lack of awareness of how the media functions, of how the internet works and of the media’s role in reporting on the internet.
Implying that a media tribunal could regulate the internet showed a “blissful ignorance about the nature of the environment they’re going up against”, he said.
Goldstuck compared Popcru’s response to the M&G story with the Johannesburg police’s response to the @PigSpotter twitter account. Police threatened to arrest the owner of the @PigSpotter twitter account, who regularly tweets the location of speeding traps, on charges of defamation and defeating the ends of justice.
“It also emphasises the need for any organisation working in the public space to get up to speed on the changing nature of communications, social media and social networking,” he said.
South Africa is still playing catch-up in the social media game. The only party with a major online presence is the Democratic Alliance (DA). DA leader Helen Zille, for example, has her own Facebook and Twitter profiles. And although there are a number of fake profiles for high-ranking ANC officials, the only ANC member with a thriving net presence at this point appears to be former government minister Jay Naidoo.
According to Goldstuck, a more appropriate way for Popcru to channel its dissatisfaction with the profile would have been to require Facebook to close the fake Patrick Craven profile. In addition, he said, public figures should secure their profiles on the most mainstream platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.
“The organisation at the very least must be driving that process if the individuals don’t know how to do it, if anything simply to reserve those names for a time when they are ready to use it,” said Goldstuck.
Full text of the Popcru statement:
Hands-Off COSATU Spokesperson
We deplores the unlettered attack to COSATU Spokesperson’s credibility
We have noted the unlettered and unpalatable attack on the standing of COSATU Spokesperson through an article written by Tarryn Harbour titled “Will the real Patrick Craven please stand up” in the Mail and Guardian on the 17th September 2010, on a fake face book posting of Cde Patrick Craven.
It is quite ridiculous to continue to undermine the working class movement’s tenacious struggles with such faceless postings whilst we should be concentrating on genuine issues that affect workers in particular and also the bread and butter matters of our masses in general, who continue to be squeezed by capitalist beneficiation and greed, but not getting same faceless attacks.
Perhaps, it is ideal that we must accelerate the realization of government instruments such as Media Appeal Tribunal to deal with media houses that may attempt to misuse their space for unsound and/or harmful writings. Postings such as “COSATU notes with regret the damage we have caused to the economy and the future of South Africa’s youth by engaging in the strike action”,are such these inferences, which we declare them as unsound.
We urge all comrades to unmask the person behind these posting to avoid purging the working class by attempting to defame our working class servant.