Social media have grown in popularity in South Sudan, particularly Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. During the war, social media tools were reported to have played a significant role in the escalation and de-escalation of conflicts. On one hand they are providing space for South Sudanese to share news and information and creating a platform for interaction and engagement on issues developing in the country. But, on the other hand, the platforms have been used to fuel or instigate rumours and in some cases to incite violence, according to the 2016 UN report on freedom of opinion and expression in South Sudan since the 2016 crisis.
Much of online media are consumed via social networks, mainly Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which remain accessible mostly in major towns. According to Internet World Stats (2019), active social media users in South Sudan have grown by 21 percent year on year between 2018 and 2019 and currently stand at 230,000, representing 1.8 percent of the total population. Slightly more than 220,000 social media users access the networks from their mobile devices. In terms of the platforms, Facebook is used by an estimated 214,201 users as of April 2019, making it the most popular social media. Instagram is used by 10.9 percent of active social media users and LinkedIn by 12.6 percent. Twitter and Snapchat have a small (almost insignificant) number of users in the country.
Year on year behaviour between 2018 and 2019, shows that Facebook users have had an insignificant change, while Instagram users have dropped by 3.8 percent and LinkedIn users have increased by 7.4 percent. This rate includes populations in far-flung and remote areas with limited access to social media where they are having a significant impact. Facebook in particular has allowed individuals in South Sudan to share videos, photos and updates within groups. For instance, the closed Facebook group Jinubins is popular among South Sudanese who share and discuss news updates and developments in the country.
Increased accessibility of inexpensive smartphones led to a sharp rise in WhatsApp popularity, which has become a popular tool for communication and also plays a major role in disseminating videos and photos on WhatsApp groups and on other social media platforms, majorly by South Sudanese of the diaspora who have a pervasive presence on most of the major networks. Those who live in the country have access to digital technologies such as smartphones which they use to share information with their friends and relatives both inside and outside the country. YouTube is also popularly used to disseminate and share news. The SSBC has for instance used the platform to share its news programming. The majority of social media users, however, are concentrated in Juba and show little to no gender gap according to Action Against Hate’s Gender-Based Hate Speech Report (2018).
Even though the numbers of connectivity are slowly increasing across the country, low literacy levels have hampered accessibility. Social media was found to have largely been used as a conduit to spread word-of-mouth news and opinion resulting to misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and echo chambers. The proliferation of hate speech and fake news on social media led to the rise of online campaign #defyhatenow, aimed at mobilising civic action against hate speech and incitement to violence via social media. The project was supported by a German-based organisation with funding from the German Institute for Foreign and Cultural relations and managed by Berlin-based R0q.ad, an agency for open culture and critical transformation. It was initiated in response to the many cases where social media was used to fan the conflict that erupted in South Sudan in December 2013, and again in July 2016. Since the launch of the program in 2015, #defyhatenow has provided extensive training, workshops, sports and music events to raise awareness on the impact of online and offline hate speech.
Gender-based hate speech was recorded in 2018. Screen of Rights, an organisation working under the auspice of Action Against Hate released a Gender-Based Hate Speech Report, indicating that hate speech was being widely used against women in positions of power. In a recent campaign in Juba to sensitise civilians against gender-based hate speech under the slogan #NaMaraSakit (not just a woman), women of all ages and walks of life detailed instances where they were openly dismissed on social media as being ‘just a woman’ with no right to speak.