A peer reviewed tweet

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This was my CC3 Toasmasters  speech on the 26th of June, 2012. A few of the facts may have changed since I did this speech, but the gist of the argument can still be engaged.

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Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

I wish to discuss with you today whether social media, like the esteemed libraries of our institutions of higher learning should be the preserve of the more erudite of our society.

A few months ago, I read with very keen interest an article by Eusebius Mckaiser called “The Unfortunate Invention of Khaya Dlanga.” He writes about Khaya Dlanga , whom he accuses of being famous for being virtually famous. Mckaiser decries the fact that this appeared to get Dlanga invited  for speaking engagements even dinners with Ambassadors. That, at the time, Dlanga had a plethora of friends on Facebook and throngs of followers on twitter…and his claim to fame? Well Mckaiser found this befuddling to the mind.

Mckaiser’s gripe with Dlanga is that he does not write pieces that can be seen to be intellectually stimulating. Pieces that can withstand the rigour of academic peer reviews.

Dlanga, to his defence, has never put himself forward as the crème de la crème of the most astute of intellectuals. And this, I say because of the audience he seems to be courting. He writes for News24, amongst other publications, where his role seems to be that of pushing the proverbial boundaries of culture. Occasionally, he comments on the politics of our time. It appears to my judgement, which admittedly isn’t that of a connoisseur in these matters; his is almost always a rather populist take on issues.

Opinions may vary on this, but from observing interactions in terms of an enlightened readership, I’d say The Daily Maverick and The business Day come top followed maybe by The Mail and Guardian, then The Times and News 24 at the base of the pyramid.

I must qualify this; the aforementioned is based on only sites I engage with often enough to form an opinion on. My basis for the conclusions above is the calibre of debate one would witness in these sites, maybe even the quality of contributors you find on these sites. The latter though, may not always be a very reliable indicator as some of the contributors write for several of these publications, and it sometimes is really up to them where they want their pieces published.

Now, if you do read News 24, you’ll know how easily an article on a domestic issue between a couple can actually elicit comments about the potholes on Hendrick Potgieter  or on how incompetent the ANC is, they can often turn into absurd comments about racism. I’ll leave you ladies and gentlemen to draw whatever connections you wish to infer from this.

Meanwhile the other sites like The Daily Maverick, The Business Day and even the Mail and Guardian are often characterised by solid and well qualified engagements.

Let’s explore deeper the enigmata that these two gentlemen are. We’ll start with Dlanga.

One concept he enjoys exploring is that of the friend zone. He wrote an article in the news24 with the title “Thou Shalt not be friend-zoned.” He defines this zone with the very able help of Wikipedia as

“ A dating term describing a relation in which one partner wants to become intimate romantically while the other prefers to be just friends. It is generally regarded as not a positive development, particularly for a man. The sense is that once this has happened to a relationship, it’s difficult to undo.”

He starts off his article with the following:

“The friend zone is a dangerous place to find oneself in. It is virtually impossible to extricate oneself out of friend-zonism. Many naïve young men have willingly come into the friend-zone thinking that they can get out easily. No, my friend. Don’t fool yourself. It is an abyss so deep and dark you can’t get out. And worse, you can’t get into the deep dark place you really want to get in.”

It has to be stated though that he has written other articles with a more solid, pragmatic and even methodical basis. So Dlanga, though can often be found riding on populist predilections in some of his offerings, is definitely quite enlightened as can be seen by the brand he’s managed to make of himself.

A quick search on the internet shows you that he’s now the Senior Communications Manager: Content Excellence and Digital at The Coca-Cola Company. Amongst his accomplishments in advertising, he lists a Cannes Gold. These awards apparently are the Grammys of the advertising industry.

Mckaiser on the other hand is the 2011 World Masters Debating champion. Just last year, I had the privilege of attending the Ruth First Memorial Lecture where the Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was the keynote speaker. Mckaiser presented a research paper on SA foreign policy with a specific interest on SA’s relations with Lybia.

An alumnus of Mckinsey who now paces up and down the corridors of Wits University deciding whether to engage with the virtual or real selves of the people he encounters during these escapades.

Lately he can also be heard on Radio 702 and Cape Talk  567 midweek between 21:00 and midnight.

This is a man who’s something of a linguistic purist. It is not unheard of for him to threaten to defriend a person who uses SMS shorthand on his Facebook wall. His Facebook wall is indeed a hodgepodge of intellectual interactions. He is a brilliant orator and certainly a very prolific writer.

Mckaiser is a Rhodes Scholar whose doctoral thesis at Oxford University sought to interrogate whether or not we are morally responsible for our beliefs.  He is well accomplished, and now even writes for the New York Times.  He writes very well, his style is something of a hybrid between George Orwell, Zakes Mda, and Bessie Head, perhaps you could even throw JM Coetzee in there. Yes, his writing is that impossibly delectable. His insight on matters political, ethical, legal or even economic perhaps has for a peer only the good palate for a resounding and timeless verse that is so conspicuous in Shakespeare’s “Let me not to the marriage of true minds”.

From the points I’ve just laid down before you, can we reasonably conclude that Mckaiser has a point on his criticism of Dlanga?

Do we want Physics professors for gatekeepers on our social networks? Doesn’t this then defeat the very purpose of these media? You see the strength of social media is its allowance of only self-censorship. Those with inclinations of only thinking after having tweeted will unfortunately witness their demise on these platforms as Jessica Leandra Dos Santos, who posted racist comments on twitter, can attest.

Social Media is just an immediately accessible outlet for the one who’s frustrated. The one who wants to be heard, even those that are hopelessly in love. The moment this is eroded, the very identity of social media will be lost.

I submit to you ladies and gentlemen, and I hope this is in language academic enough for you my learned friends, that Social Media has brought about a paradigm shift that now allows the reader and writer to find one another. A shift that will truly allow for, in Darwin’s words, the survival of the fittest. And thus I do not agree that we should have our tweets peer reviewed.

Thank you.

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