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Volume 5, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2040-199X
  • E-ISSN: 1751-7974



Broad adoption of social network sites and mobile messaging in South Africa has made many-to-many communication increasingly accessible. This article tackles ongoing issues of differentiated access to and use of mobile communication, and particularly the specific digital materialities involved in mobile-centric access to the Internet. Specific local patterns of adoption and participation are sketched, in particular the influence of differential commodification of mobile communication, the tiered functionality of phones and cost saving through avoidance of high prepaid data tariffs. We present three distinctive case studies of mobile political discourse during The Spear controversy in May 2012 – activists’ MXit profiles, a popular Facebook group, the New Political Forum, and Facebook status updates posted from mobile applications. Both community dynamics in the Facebook group and the limited use of mobile link-sharing in the status updates suggest that commodified communication can stifle certain kinds of mobile participation in public discourse. While mobile use has expanded access to online political discourse, computer and smartphone users occupy a strategic position in a broader social media ecology, where Facebook updates connect with instant messaging, everyday talk and Google and Facebook rankings, where increasingly the question is not only ‘who speaks’, but also ‘who gets heard’.


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