Is Twitter ready for the real Julius Malema?

"I wasn't coerced into doing it at all. I offered it to him in 2009 but it didn't materialise," the originator of the account @Julius_S_Malema, who requested to remain anonymous, told the Mail & Guardian, adding the account has now been taken over by Malema.

Malema has confirmed to the M&G he has taken over the account.

With 214 156 followers as of September 5, the Twitter feed is by far the most popular of all South African politicians.

@SAPresident, President Jacob Zuma's official twitter feed has only 157 223 followers and Malema's closest political rival on the social network is @HelenZille, with the Western Cape premier's 175 922 fans.

"I didn't think it would get this huge. I only started it because someone said I was like Malema and I wanted to prove them wrong. I merely started the account and began quoting him verbatim," the originator said.

Klout, an online platform that measures the impact of an individual's social media identity, gives Malema a score of 78, indicating that he influences 28 000 others and impacts on subjects ranging from Africa and investing to alcohol and toilet paper.

"Julius Sello Malema has built a very large and engaged network through high quality, trustworthy content," Klout wrote of his profile.

In 2010 the ANC Youth League threatened to shut down Twitter on behalf of Malema in response to "counter-revolutionaries who were impersonating him" on the social network.

"The ANC Youth League has in [sic] more than one occasion reported these impersonators and hackers, yet no action has been taken against them by the Twitter administrators. We will now approach the relevant authorities to report these hackers and call for the closer [sic] of Twitter if its administrators are not able to administer reports for violation of basic human rights and integrity," the league said in a statement at the time.

Since the real Malema took over the feed, there has been a marked change in the tone and content of tweets compared to the originator's.

This tweet was sent on September 12: "No surrender! No retreat! #ASIJIKI and we are not frightened by threats of those who are loosing [sic] ground."

And this tweet posted on August 24: "The ANCYL has decided not to comment on the death of #SollyTheHippo after failing to see how it can be pinned on or used to discredit Zuma."

Malema is currently enjoying a political resurgence of sorts since the Marikana mine shooting, where 34 miners were gunned down by police following a protracted labour dispute at Lonmin platinum mine in the North West province.

"It's interesting he's claimed this account instead of approaching Twitter for a new account that would be verified as his own," Sam Beckbessinger, strategic planner at eMarketing company Quirk, told the M&G.

Beckbessinger said it may prove to be "very unwise" for Malema to have simply taken over what was essentially a parody account.

"Half of those people who follow that account are not necessarily part of his real fan base and it will be interesting to see how he interacts with them."


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