The week in social media | 18 May - 24 May 2020

Every day we observe, dissect and analyse the news and information driving the conversations around the week’s most topical issues on social media. These are the highlights you should know about.

Madagascar still in the news

Madagascar was one of the top topics by volume, with narratives related to President Rajoelina’s address and Madagascar’s stance against the WHO. President Rajoelina posed the question: if a herbal remedy for Covid-19 had come from a European country, would there be so many doubts? Madagascar’s first recorded Covid-19 death (a 57-year-old medical worker with diabetes and high blood pressure comorbidities) on 17 May led to the top post by impact.

In a national address, President Rajoelina said the treatment was not administered to the patient who had died because of his underlying health conditions.

The strained relationship between the WHO and Madagascar has made headlines since the country began promoting a herbal tonic as a treatment for Covid-19. The WHO firmly states that more testing must be done before any claims about the efficacy of the remedy can be made.

So what’s the real story behind the Western Cape’s high infection numbers?

The Western Cape was one of the top trending stories on social media - the top 10 posts discussed the high number of infections in the province and whether lockdown for the Western Cape should be Level 3 or Level 5. Some commentators say the high rate is due to more effective testing and reporting. @News24’s tweet provided updated statistics on the Western Cape and achieved the top reach within this conversation. Premier Alan Winde is advocating for the province to move to Level 3.

@MightiJamie created a Twitter poll: “Let’s settle this #Covid19 testing. Is the Western Cape testing more than Gauteng? Are the other provinces lying about their data? Is the Western Cape the honest province?” At 09:00 on 18 May, 680 people had voted - 18.4% said “yes”, 59.6% said “no” and 24.7% said “not sure”.

False alarm or fake news on South African army tanks?

A recent video, purportedly of tanks being delivered to the South African government, has been trending on social media. Mis-attributed videos like this have contributed to many conspiracy theories on the origins of the coronavirus, the impact of 5G, the involvement of Bill Gates and the possibility of military action being taken in South Africa.

The Caxton Local Magazines group’s articles across a number of their sites featuring the video of the “tank delivery” achieved a high reach on social media. The article concludes with @darren_olivier analysing the footage on Twitter: “1. Probably filmed in Namibia, not South Africa. 2. These are vehicles being delivered overland to the Botswana Defence Force. Known orders, nothing unusual. 3. Has nothing to do with the lock down, COVID-19, or any conspiracy theories about foreign troops”. The Tweet was viewed 7 500 times.

Cape Town Gangland Truce

Members of opposing gangs in the Cape Flats have called an unprecedented truce to help their community. Members of the Americans and the Hard Livings gangs worked side by side to deliver bread, flour and vegetables to needy families.

The Muslim Association of South Africa distributed food hampers, hygiene packs with gloves, masks, sanitiser and other PPE, said spokesperson Yaseen Theba. The association has undertaken several relief campaigns, devoting all donations it receives to helping people hit by the Covid crisis.

Lockdown leads to more unemployment

A TransUnion study on job losses as a result of the coronavirus found that 14% of respondents had lost their jobs since the pandemic started.

@HermanMashaba tweeted a link to the study, saying almost 1 in 6 South Africans have lost their jobs, and the lockdown was causing more harm than the virus. Responses to the tweet were mixed, but most tended to be negative about the economic prospects for South Africans. Some commentators asked how foreigners would be excluded from jobs, while others commented that the UIF system was so overloaded with applications that it was not functional.

On a positive note: radio personality @anele tweeted that the #947breakfastclub had raised R72 500 of the targeted R100 000 to buy childcare essentials for new moms who had lost their jobs as a result of coronavirus.

Health workers test positive

Friday (22 May): one of the day’s top trending topics included many news and social media stories about more healthcare workers testing positive for Covid-19 and hospital beds filling up rapidly.

Among the reports of healthcare workers testing positive for Covid-19 included: 150 healthcare workers at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town; 3 staff members at George Provincial Hospital; 1 nurse at Eldorado Park Extension 2 clinic in Joburg, with the Health Department closing the clinic and all staff told to self-isolate (tracing was also in place for all possible cases and the facility would be sanitised).

A News24 story received mass traction: “ICU beds for Covid-19 patients 'already full' in Cape Town's largest hospital”. The article said the 25 beds set aside at Tygerberg Hospital for Covid-19 patients were already full. The Health Department said: “the hospital should not be seen in isolation from the provincial plan in managing the Covid-19 pandemic”, adding that 90% of those who contract Covid-19 would not need hospitalisation.

Another tweet that gained some traction in the week referred to the US donating 1 000 ventilators to South Africa. The initial announcement was made two weeks ago, but a post Friday morning reignited social media engagement.

Issued by the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change.

See for daily reports

A deep analysis on any of these issues is available on request.

About CABC

The Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) is a non-profit organisation based at UCTs Graduate School of Business and incubated by the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership. It was established to track and counter mis- and disinformation, fake news and divisive and polarising rhetoric that is promulgated online to undermine social cohesion, democratic integrity, and the stability of nation states.

For media enquiries, please contact Praveen Naidoo