Pictures, Protests and Politics: Mapping Twitter Images during South Africa’s Fees Must Fall Campaign

Publication Type:
Journal Article
African Journalism Studies, 2017, 38 (2), pp. 71 - 89
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© 2017 Unisa Press. News media have often been criticised for framing social protests in negative ways, particular through photojournalism. While news photographs can shape the public's understanding of social and political events, research has shown that journalists often portray dramatic, violent or sensationalist images. This paper shifts the focus from mainstream news media, to explore how citizens themselves visually frame protests. The paper provides results from a qualitative analysis of the images shared by Twitter users during the national Fees Must Fall (FMF) student protests in South Africa, which began in October 2015. The paper analyses the representational strategies of the protest images tweeted, questioning how these visual images produce accounts of the social world, and further, how those accounts are constructed as “truthful” via their circulation in social media. Moreover, this analysis of the images circulated on Twitter and labelled using the hashtag Fees Must Fall (#FMF), explores the role played by images in strategic online communication within the campaign. An examination of this specific case contributes toward an understanding of social protest in an African context, particularly with respect to how new technologies and social media are increasingly being used as tools for political mobilisation.
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