What started out as a platform for entertainment and lighthearted content, popular video-sharing app TikTok has now become the platform of choice for South African users to share content displaying the rampant violence and looting taking place in the country.
Videos on TikTok, which are recorded in 15-second increments, are driven by hashtags, making it easy to find a community of like-minded individuals and similar videos.
Users of the app, many of whom fall within the Generation Z and Millennial age bracket, according to a 2021 report, are getting more politically involved. They are posting videos and creating awareness of burning buildings and cars, people fleeing in the streets, shops being ransacked, and clips of the overall destruction caused in some cities. This comes as an attempt to highlight the current dire state of the country.
Some users are also making light of the situation by taking part in the trending hashtag #LootingGoneWrong, where people are posting humorous videos of themselves acting upset at the fact that they grabbed the wrong items while looting.
TikTok user @isphathimandla showcases his “looting gone wrong” in a video displaying him wearing mismatched sneakers and the fact he mistakenly grabbed two left shoes.
Johannesburg user @crazydaisy77, shows an allegedly 35-year old car dealership after it had been set alight, with cars inside completely burnt.
Another user, @abel_ayele narrates a video after he watched looters abandoning their cars with looted items still inside, as the South African Police Service tried to arrest them. He shows footage of cars with smashed windows and slashed tires, in an attempt to stop the looters from escaping.
According to a video uploaded by TikTok user @trilsokkie007, looters were also stealing solar panels from a ransacked shopping mall. The video shows him driving around the mall parking lot and filming the events from his driver’s window.
In Cape Town, user @pashadossantos posted a video showing a long queue outside a weapon store in Canal Walk Shopping Centre, alluding to the growing fear of violence in the region.
Meanwhile, in a statement to the nation regarding the looting, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged people to be cognisant of the content they post on social media. This is an effort to curb the spread of misleading news and inflammatory messages creating panic.
We should refrain from posting and circulating inflammatory messages on social media, and from spreading false reports that may cause further panic,” he said.
“No-one should take the law into their own hands. Rather, we should join those individuals and communities who are working with the police to prevent looting, and those members of the public who have provided tip-offs and information about instances of criminality,” he added.
According to the South African Chamber of Commerce, some of these false reports include the “mischaracterisation of marauding criminal gangs” who are being painted as political protesters. The Chamber also warned against social media content that may cause mass confusion and has the potential to “inflame an already volatile situation and spread further violence.”
Despite the public warnings, South African users are continuing to share their experiences of the events.