Social Media: An increasing intolerant space where the public views of others in critique of the State on Covid-19 solicit cheap labeling?

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

Social media remains a very interesting and discursive space. In a sense, we should be glad for it since its presence since it visibly changed the dynamics in the meaning of communications and outcomes of the world. It is to be expected that such space naturally would solicit contradictory views since all contest to be heard. In this volatile but important space, some people get angry over the views of others while they stoically want to hold their views as correct. Permit me to lament, when will we learn in Facebook spaces no one is an expert you only have an opinion. Your opinion is shaped by what you allowed yourself exposure to, yet it is your opinion. The Constitution of South Africa in its Bill of Rights Chapter 2, Section 7- 39 advances under the

The right to a public opinion is catered for in the egalitarian South African constitution. We see this from the Freedom of expression Sub-Section 16 (1). b, that guarantees the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas.  Naturally, the aforementioned rights as captured in Subsection 16 (2) does not extend to – propaganda for war;  incitement or imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.  In our current space with the presence of the COVID-19 with its reported new mutated strands, it is expected that people would hold differences of views on what the virus means in identity and response.

Perhaps we must first debunk the advanced notion of experts on COVID-19. The Chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC)  Prof Salim Abdool Karim is a well-respected scientist.  Yet he and anyone else of the scientist-fraternity are not natural experts on COVID-19. They like all of us are learning every day about this virus and its mutations, in this sense Karim and all others are at best students of COVID-19  like all of us. Let us debunk the myth that we have natural experts when we only have students of the virus. Anyone who understands research would appreciate the reality of opposing views as the lubricant for advancement.  Prof Karim as late as yesterday told us he feels he let SA down for what he considered a missed opportunity to create infrastructure and development capacity to manufacture a vaccine in South Africa. This statement can be considered as noble, pragmatic and the sign of maturity,  yet it can be read as precarious since it means we are in the hands of one person or scientist [Prof Karim] as to an SA scientific response for COVID-19. What does this mean how sustainable is this? Or shall we not engage this?  In this sense, if one as social media active individual opts to believe whatever the chairperson of the   State ‘guru’ says about COVID-19 or the punted vaccines as gospel it is your God-given and constitutional right. Equally so if others do not it is both their God-given and constitutional right too.

Shall we question the Government on what it relies upon as its content for the claim of the pandemic? A pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people”. The classical definition includes nothing about population immunity, virology or disease severity.  By this definition, pandemics can be said to occur annually in each of the temperate southern and northern hemispheres, given that seasonal epidemics cross international boundaries and affect a large number of people. However, seasonal epidemics are not considered pandemics.”  In SA we are classically conditioned to believe the content of the pandemic is SEVERITY.

However, please note the classical definition includes nothing about virology or disease severity. I don’t think this memorandum got to all politicians, commentators analysts, academics, journalists even clergy whose only role is to keep telling us of the severity of the disease.  Permit me than to critique the notion of death severity as a State-sponsored narrative and tangible in social-media phenomena. Those of us active in social media consider ourselves the real world. We are often oblivious to the fact of how small the social media world population is. We also neglect to realise that every person you have as a friend, in, for example, your maximum of 5000 Facebook friends, you may share upwards of 50 – 350  in mutual friendships. Meaning you likely to read of one death at least 10 – 25 times low end, from the circle of friends that post and which you access by scrolling or is alerted to through notifications of those you follow. It’s highly likely that it is this in-built recurrence and repeats dynamic that has many fooled to assume there is this undeniable severity of the virus. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic does not speak to virology or severity of disease and cannot be forced to be what it is not.

Also, if the classical definition does not point to virology or disease severity but details a worldwide phenomenon and presence is it remotely possible that it can be media-hyped and blown out of proportion for severity because it works for a particular agenda of those who have an interest in keeping us all hostage to fear and equally silenced in a public dissenting opinion as driven into the kraal of submission? We need to hear from the State why it persists in its silence not to explain its conflation of pandemic as essentially measurable in virology and severity of the disease when it knows otherwise? Maybe if the State in its daily updates of communications can be less ambiguous and more specific with what it means with pandemic we will have less panic in our society since. We will appreciate the true meaning of pandemic and not get hoodwinked into the CNN drummed up numbers millions as propagated of severity.

When one as a member of social media choose to accuse and berate others for being idiots and conspiracy theorists when they express their rightful scepticism of COVID-19 and the State’s intentions, one cannot pretend any superior knowledge of clearly understanding what is being presented by the State or its representatives’ scientists. Simply arrogating a right to claim to know as a bedrock from where you condemn all dissenting voices that critique the approach and responses of this Administration as conspiracy theorists are simply not sustainable. Shall, we resist the temptation to label people who exercise the agency as idiots and conspiracy theorists simply because one refuses to be critical but swallow what is shared. The right to believe is an entitled one. When will you as social media member learn labelling does very little to those who enjoy liberated thinking as a gift from God?

Your choice to believe the State on COVID-19 when you don’t believe it on a plethora of other things is your constitutional right. Your choice to trust politicians on this particular issue of COVID-19 when you distrust them on so many equally life-threatening matters, while strange, is nevertheless your right. No one label you as ignorant and a mere follower for exercising your constitutional right in this regard. Allow others the rightful access to that same franchise.

What should be of concern is the contemporary tendencies of this Administration in its attempts to control both the content and narrative of the subject matter. What ought to bring discomfort to any true human-rights orientated soul is the obsession of the State to at the hand of a Disaster Management Act temper with the rights of a public opinion that is contrary to itself on a subject matter that this Administration also is no expert? What should be a grave concern is the need the State temerity to assume all of its responses on COVID-19 since March 26, 2020, was legally sound, constitutionally permissible and above question. What should trouble everyone is the Amended Level-3 Determination of Admission of Guilt Fines in respect of Offences in terms of the Disaster Management Act 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002) regulations as updated in 2020. Given my role as a public theologian, political commentator and analyst, I was naturally drawn to Regulation 14.2. Regulation 14.2  categorically states: “Any person publishing any statement through any medium to deceive other persons on COVID- 19, the COVID-19 infection status of any person or any measures taken by the government to address Covid19 commits an offence.”

This aforementioned regulation besides its reference to the personal issue, essentially means the Democratic State today arrogates a right to singularly determines the content of, “with the intention to deceive”, means without attempting to explain its interpretations or the mutations of such interpretations for those it addresses.  A reasonable deduction here is Government now owns the alone right to determine what the intention of someone was in publishing a dissenting voice, or opinion or set of contra-facts on Covid-19. Equally so, the current administration arrogates a right in the superlative to shield itself from rightful public critique with its, “any measures to be taken by the government to address Covid-19.″ Effectively the Democratic State at the hand of a Disaster Management Act deems itself entitled to regulate the fundamental constitutional rights of freedom of speech and the right to a public opinion into obliteration. We know the cornerstone of a democracy is its built-in DNA to insist on the bulwark of tolerance for contradicting opinions in a functional society as that which defines meaningful life.

May we know why social media members who label others are not perturbed by these tendencies of this Administration? May we know why the deaths we all suffered in the loss of family and friends render you to the silence of submission and compliance to even abscond in thinking? Can they also respect the right of others who consciously question the State and keep those in power accountable? The choice to trust and believe politicians when it suits one is a right, equally so respect others in their choice not to naturally believe or trust politicians on the subject of  COVID-19.

COVID-19 is much more than the purported health issue that some want it to be.  It, unfortunately, cuts across and includes a multiplicity of spheres. These, among others,  include global, local, political, economic, class, power, health,  societal and human rights dimensions. Meaning it is a human issue that warrants cognisance in clarity of thinking on each of these spheres and how they intersect. Perhaps for the chattering class, it does not matter how many people have lost jobs in this season. Maybe those who defend the State do so in job-security with the State as job provider. We have seen the skyrocketing of food prices since the advent of COVID-19.  The State now demands the unemployed and poor to wear a mask, when the government never provided the poor with a mask.

Logic dictates something is not right or true simply because an elected President, regardless who he or she is, announced or say it is. It is not naturally the gospel because a structure or body of the State pronounces so. We have seen the irrationality of the adjusted curfew end times which at Level-1 was set for 9 pm to 4 am, which arbitrarily and with no scientific evidence was altered under Level-3 to  9 pm and 6 am. We have seen how while SA is still on Level-3 another recent adjustment from the announced 6 am to 5 am. It is fair to conclude the entire January 11 Presidential address was this matter.  Again, the President failed to explain the scientific reasons for this adjustment neither did he apologise for the earlier decision. We yet to know what happens between 4 Am and 5 Am that so impacts the spreading of the virus that we now can start our day in street-presence from 5 Am? While some will dismiss, this as knit-picking, yet it cannot hide an Administration that does not also prove rational in its regulations and rules for its COVID-19 governance response.

Hence we implore those who get angry with the views of those who don’t trust the State please desist engaging in the cheap blackmailing of others in attempt of blaming them for the so-called deaths when all they do is to question the confusing COVID-19 numbers and what these mean for a meaningful life. Also, stop pretending when you say COVID -19 is real those who don’t agree are morons.

Finding solutions to the novel COVID-19 virus should not translate to present us with the erosion of our adopted constitutional democratic identity and its cornerstone principles. We must never afford anyone including the executive, such powers to pulverise the values we hold dear. It is rather one-dimensional to detail a threat to these values observable only in frames of external identities or from a citizen’s context when we allow the State free-reign in an unfettered sense to abuse the crisis of COVID- 19 for ulterior political intentions. We must be vigilant to continue reminding the Ramaphosa Administration it is a custodian and ought not to

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA

over the people of SA.

I still hold any crisis should not automatically suspend thinking since every crisis ought to stir critical thinking. Critical thinking is not the luxury of a few, it is the lifeblood of a conscientious society.