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By Citizen Reporter


More than 80% of online posts show negative sentiment for foreigners

The consensus in the online conversation remains that foreigners are one of, if not the main reason, South Africa is in the state it is currently in.

South Africa’s challenges, including the rising cost of living, unemployment, corruption and load shedding, have provided the perfect breeding ground for perpetrators of online anti-foreigner sentiments.

Foreigners are blamed for the deteriorating state of the country and linked to crime and service delivery challenges. This despite the lack of evidence.

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This conversation, driven by hashtags such as #PutSouthAfricaFirst, #WeWantOurCountryBack and #PutSouthAficansFirst, got more than three million mentions between January and May last year. On the ground, self-appointed watchdogs such as Operation Dudula have forcefully removed foreigners from homes and businesses.

The consensus in the online conversation remains that foreigners are one of, if not the main reason, South Africa is in the state it is currently in.

Analysing the anti-foreigner online conversation between 1 and 31 January 2023, the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change found posts that focused on the activities of alleged foreign drug dealers and misrepresented xenophobic views as patriotism received the most traction.

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According to the centre’s recent report, more than 80% of the mentions showed negative sentiment for foreigners, while only 5% showed positive sentiment. The centre developed a list of categories to better understand the tweets.

These include:

  • Generalisations: 8.2% of mentions. Tweets making “blanket statements” about particular demographics. Examples include tweets that suggest “Nigerians are drug dealers”.
  • Specific cases: 20.9% of total mentions. Tweets that refer to specific people, as opposed to groups. “A common feature of posts tagged as specific cases is to name the nationality of a specific person or group of people alongside the illegality of their citizenship, as well as the crime”.
  • Blaming foreigners: 16.3% of total mentions. Foreigners are blamed for the country’s drug problem, human trafficking, prostitution, the failing the healthcare system, the lack of available places at government schools and corruption.
  • Relative deprivation: 8% of total mentions. Tweets from South Africans describing themselves as worse off in their own country than foreigners.
  • Bio-cultural markers: 1.3% of total mentions. “Ethnicity, tribalism, religion and skin pigmentation are talking points in terms of physical othering”.
  • Life outside SA: 2.2% of total mentions. Reminding foreigners of how lucky they are to be in SA.
  • Dehumanisation: Presenting foreigners “as animals or nonhuman objects”.
  • Patriotism: 6.4% of total mentions. Regarding xenophobia as patriotism.

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This article was funded by the EU. Its contents are the responsibility of the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change

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