Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille has acknowledged that the social platform Twitter can be as troublesome for a politician as it it useful, following a public spat with Simphiwe Dana.
Twitter can be the perfect platform for public engagement if used correctly, but it is also the ideal place to provoke and underpin prejudice, wrote the Western Cape premier in her newsletter on Tuesday.
Following on a public squabble on Twitter with several high-profile users last week, Zille admitted that those who tweeted left themselves open to criticism that they could not adequately respond to using the 140 character limit.
In the spat, Dana accused Zille and the DA of being blatantly racist in their governance of the Western Cape, doing nothing to tackle poverty and inequality.
The songstress also challenged the premier’s assertions that Cape Town is the best-run city in South Africa and that the Western Cape enjoys the lowest rate of unemployment in the country.
Zille fired back several of her own tweets, arguing that her party was non-racial and has implemented policies that fight poverty.
Zille conceded in her newsletter that she may have acted hastily in her response: “I worked hard at resisting the temptation to respond [but] I took the bait and replied.”
Quality versus quantity
While pointing to the benefits of using the microblogging site, Zille argued that it was near impossible to sufficiently address questions posed to politicians on Twitter.
“It is possible to ask a complex question in 140 characters, but usually impossible to answer it adequately. Inadequate responses generate many complex misinterpretations (often deliberate) that multiply stratospherically through cyberspace,” she wrote.
The opposition leader contends that Twitter has thus become the ideal space for those wanting to incite anger and bigotry.
“This makes Twitter the perfect medium for provoking and spreading moral outrage, reinforcing prejudices, and driving personal agendas,” she wrote.
Dana did not comment when approached by the Mail & Guardian, saying she would respond in due course through an article of her own.
Slippery political slope
Political analyst Professor Adam Habib concurred with Zille’s statements, arguing that social networks such as Twitter could easily be used for nefarious purposes, and questioning the overall benefits of using the medium to interact with followers.
“The more mechanisms you use the better, although it’s only a relatively privileged section of the population you are targeting [with Twitter],” he said.
Habib also urged politicians who use blogs and other social networks as a means of communication to treat them like any other public interaction.
“The correct processes should be followed to ensure that proper engagement occurs,” he said.