/ 6 January 2017

What’s the good news? Fake news and acts of kindness

Still standing: One viral internet sensation this year was the Mannequin Challenge
Still standing: One viral internet sensation this year was the Mannequin Challenge

The wind of regime change is a-coming.

Frankly, it strikes us as highly suspicious that a mighty wind should swoop from the heavens to rip the roof off a marquee while the president is delivering a keynote address on the state of the nation.

In the interest of stable government and national unity, we call on the police to conduct an urgent investigation into whether there was any criminal intent.

Mannequin challenges
As if there weren’t already enough dummies in the world, standing around in a state of frozen terror or indecision, awkwardly maintaining their position amid the swirl of the raging tide.

Humanity advances by advancing, not by hitting pause and collectively going into silent muscle spasm while someone with a smartphone pans your lurid tableau for yet another hashtagged submission to YouTube.

That’s one small step for a mannequin, one giant leap into the abyss for mannequinkind.

Spell-shaming unpresidented
It is one of the unwritten rules of Twitter that you never mock or deride someone for posting a tweet that would have been better left unwritten, or at least unchecked by a professional proofreader before being dispatched into the ether.

Context, rather than semantic accuracy, is the golden key to meaning and by now we should all be fluent in the universal language of typo.

So please everyone, give @RealDonaldTrump a break — at least until his inauguration affords him an unpresidented opportunity to prove to the world what a bad spell really means.

Toxic impastors of Doom
Look, you either believe in a Supreme Being, in which case you don’t need a spray in the face to test your faith, or you don’t, in which case you might as well accept that you are already doomed.

But not even Dante could conceive of a level of eternal damnation where sinners are spritzed with a fine mist of pyrethroid, the active ingredient in a household product designed to banish creepy-crawlies from your kitchen.

It’s enough to make you switch your allegiance to Marx, who was at least magnanimous enough to prescribe a dose of opiate as a salve for the people.

Divergence stunned
If you are a member of the academy, seeking to reinforce the preconceptions of your chosen discipline, then you are well within your rights to refuse to listen to anyone who may compromise the integrity of your thesis.

If, on the other hand, you are a member of the media, and here we refer to the Cape Town Press Club, who withdrew an invitation to Steve Hofmeyr to address their weekly gathering, then surely your entire reason for being is to seize any opportunity to entertain and interrogate divergent views that may shape themselves into a story.

The excuse given by the club was there had been threats to set stun grenades off at the event — an incentive to leave the office and attend a weekly press luncheon if ever there was one.

Ridiculed hate clause
Haters gonna hate, as the internet keeps reminding us, which is why the proposed Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is unlikely to prevent anyone from hating in the privacy of their own home.

Hating in public is another matter, and if the Bill makes anyone think twice before tweeting or Facebooking their constitutionally unprotected points of view, then it will have achieved its goal of helping to build a more ostensibly tolerant society.

But for the sake of our own fragile sanity, let us hope that the clause prohibiting the ridiculing of people on account of their occupation or trade never makes it into law.

Otherwise, the courts are going to be pretty crowded, and we won’t even be able to ridicule the lawyers.

Zsa Zsa’s date with destiny
Consciousness of our own mortality is one of the character traits that makes us human, as is our restless desire to seek patterns and meaning in the random chaos of the universe.

Hence the popular theory that a cluster of celebrity demises, mysteriously occurring within the space of a single calendar year, is reason enough to suspect that the end of the world must be nigh.

But the more prosaic truth is that the end is eventually nigh for everyone, even the legendary and seemingly immortal Hollywood starlet Zsa Zsa Gàbor, cruelly robbed at the last minute of her opportunity to live to be 100.

Assuming, of course, that her various publicists correctly reported her age during the preceding 99 years.

Fallibility tester
When the little boy in the fable cried wolf, there was great consternation among the people in the village, especially when it turned out that there wasn’t a wolf after all.

To make matters worse, there wasn’t a little boy either, and nor were there people or a village. That’s right, the whole story was made up as a cautionary reminder that we should verify a report before posting it to social media.

Today, fake news sites serve this very valuable purpose, giving us good cause to think about the real meaning of news, and the meaning of real news, rather than simply consuming what we are fed as the gospel truth.

There’s no need to cry wolf about fake news. Use it as a tidemark of trust and veracity, so that when the real wolf comes along, you’ll be able to tell the difference.

SABC seeks the scraps
Given that the SABC recorded a loss of R411-million in one financial year, it’s not surprising that the public broadcaster would want to make up the shortfall by scraping every penny it can from its masses of unlicensed viewers.

So please, pay your TV licence, it’s the riot thing to do.

Otherwise, the SABC’s attorneys will continue to bombard you with threatening SMSes that in sum value probably cost more than the licence fee you’re not paying.

It’s the debt collection equivalent of ambulance-chasing, except that, every now and again, ambulance-chasers do catch an ambulance.

WhatsApp is what’s up
With the possible exception of smartphones that explode in your pocket, neighbourhood WhatsApp groups are a prime example of a well-intentioned technology gone haywire.

How many times a day do you really want to see pictures of somebody’s cat that’s gone missing, or be asked by everyone in the street whether everyone else has power or water.

Although it is nice to know who your neighbours are, and to know that they are only two ticks away in a crisis, the problem is not so much the checking-in as the knowing that you can never leave.

Power slapdowns
If it isn’t Jackson Mthembu filing suit against Hlaudi Motsoeneng, or the current public protector refusing to host an event if the former public protector is invited to attend, then it’s Black Coffee slapping AKA’s road manager in the face during a gig.

If people in positions of power and influence can’t contain their contempt for one another why can’t they learn a lesson from the rest of us who generally get along fine when we aren’t on social media, driving on the freeway, looking for parking or shopping for discounted goods at the mall on Black Friday?

140 words will do, thank you
Steam-driven relics of the Industrial Age of Journalism, press conferences are tedious, contrived, self-important affairs that suck the life out of news, never start on time, and always end on a note of exhausted anticlimax.

In the age of instant one-to-many mass communication, it would be far less painful for all concerned if the relevant parties simply posted a tweet saying that they have noted the contents of the report, that they have reconsidered their position, and that they are sorry that they are not sorry that they will not be resigning.

Thank you, and no further questions.

Kindness is now a news event
So busy are we wading our way through the swamp of corruption, cronyism and the capture and collapse of ideals we hold dear that we easily overlook the fact that life, on more solid ground, goes on.

There is always a good story to remind us of this, and one that springs quickly to mind is the news report of the student who was injured in a motorcycle accident in Pretoria, and who was helped by taxi drivers who formed a laager of minibuses to protect him.

The only really newsworthy thing about this was that it made the news at all, on the assumption that kindness and compassion for strangers are anomalies in our society, when in reality they are the everyday default.

So drive carefully, go well, and be sure to watch out for potholes on the road ahead.