In 2008 South Africa witnessed some of the most brutal xenophobic attacks the country has ever seen, but happily it dissipated rather quickly over the course of a couple of weeks.
Unfortunately the attacks flared up again last week and carried on over the weekend – to the point where the photograph of the brutal stabbing of Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole was published on the front page of almost every newspaper around the world.
While the nature and source of the attacks might not be that different between the events of 2008 and 2015, people’s online behaviour has changed. Back in 2008 the internet was still pretty much a novelty and the speeds we have today were as almost unheard of. Most people however did get their information about the attacks from the internet – and the same is happening this year.
According to Google Trends, searches for ‘Xenophobia’ have more than doubled in 2015 when compared to searches for the same term in 2008.
In terms of regional interest, the most searches last week were predominantly from within South Africa, but as the violence started to garner more publicity, top searches this week spread to neighbouring nations like Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Searching for the terms ‘Xenophobia attacks’ also yields a huge spike in interest when compared to 2008. There were slight spikes in 2009 and just before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but nothing on the scale of 2015.
For the most searches by Monday afternoon, xenophobia victim Emmanuel Sithole topped the charts with more than 5 000 searches, while ‘Xenophobia attacks’ was the most-searched term on Friday afternoon, with more than 10 000 searches.
Interestingly, by extrapolating past values, Google forecasts that online searches for xenophobia will starts to decline May. And it seems as though people really do want to stay on top of what is happening in the country, as searches for ‘Xenophobia news’ are way more than before.
On Twitter, the terms ‘Xenophobia’, #notoxenophobia and #EmmanuelSithole are still trending throughout the country.
In both Zimbabwe’s capital Harare and Bulawayo, the term ‘xenophobia’ is trending.
[Image – CC by 2.0/Dan Conway]