Sex, drugs and rotten trolls: Celebrity gossipers send digital standards down the tubes

Sex, drugs and rotten trolls: Celebrity gossipers send digital standards down the tubes
Media personality Bonang Matheba. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape)

Without any regulation, YouTubers and podcasters who use controversial commentary to grow their following aren’t going away anytime soon.

Slik Talk. Rea Gopane. Tasha K. These YouTubers are part of a growing number who attract viewers and followers with their controversial and sometimes defamatory commentary on celebrities.

To enter this YouTube celebrity gossip community, one just needs a camera, decent lighting and a microphone. Anyone who has seen Slik Talk’s videos knows that they are characterised by the 24-year-old sitting in what looks like a bedroom. Slik Talk often sits in front of a mahogany cupboard, yelling in a high-pitched voice. His videos often garner 50,000 views.

Slik Talk’s commentary is often egregious as well. After Anele Tembe died following a fall from a hotel balcony in Cape Town in 2021, Slik Talk insisted that she was high on drugs. He said this despite the fact that he wasn’t present and despite having no evidence to support that statement. Slik Talk, who claims he is a law student, started his YouTube channel in 2019.

Rea Gopane, another twentysomething podcaster, got into hot water last year when he claimed that TV presenter Scoop, whose real name is Siyabonga Ngwekazi, had told him that award-winning media personality Bonang Matheba had introduced musician Kiernan Forbes, who goes by the stage name AKA, to drugs.

Slik Talk. (Photo: YouTube)

“Scoop told us that AKA is on coke and Bonang is the one that got him into cocaine,” said Gopane. He repeatedly made the assertion to his co-host, Stephen Ndikumana, who seemed reluctant to co-sign Gopane’s comments. Soon Matheba served Gopane with a letter demanding that he retract his statements and issue an apology. Gopane apologised on Twitter and through a YouTube video.

About 15,000km away in the US, in 2019, YouTuber Latasha Kebe repeatedly made videos in which she said that rapper Cardi B, real name Belcalis Almánzar, was a prostitute, used cocaine and had herpes.

It was reported that Kebe had testified in the trial following these statements that she had targeted the rapper to drive public engagement with her online content.

Recently, both Cardi B and Matheba won cases against the YouTubers. In Cardi B’s case, Kebe was ordered to pay $4-million for defamation and invasion of privacy.

In Matheba’s case, the judge ruled in her favour and Gopane was ordered to pay her R300,000.

Podcaster Rea Gopane. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape)

Gopane made a video saying he wouldn’t be paying a cent. Responding to a fan’s suggestion that a crowdfunding campaign be set up for Gopane, he told City Press: “There will be no crowdfunding schemes. We don’t want any free money. We want people to subscribe to our website. That is how we are going to grow our business. That money would never go to Bonang anyway. Any money we make we’re probably going to hide it. At least I will. They can’t touch the business. They’re just after me.”

Gopane’s woes don’t end there, as he is also being sued by amapiano DJ and producer Mr JazziQ, whose real name is Tumelo Manyoni. Gopane claimed that Manyoni had a hand in the death of musicians Mpura and Killer Kau, who died in an accident in August 2021.

Although both Matheba and Cardi B are holding the YouTubers who recklessly make comments about them accountable, what is the code of conduct to which YouTubers subscribe? If journalists are bound by the Press Code and can be reported to the Press Ombud and broadcasters can be reported to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA), what happens to YouTubers?

The BCCSA doesn’t accept complaints about YouTube or online videos/content or social media content. Yet viewers have managed to work around this in an effort to hold YouTubers accountable.

Podcaster MacG, whose real name is MacGyver Mukwevho, was in hot water in 2021 after he and his co-host, Sol Phenduka, made transphobic comments.

Without the option to report them to the BCCSA, viewers emailed the brands that were sponsoring Mukwevho’s podcast. Old Mutual, Studio 88 and Amstel soon stopped sponsoring the podcast.

Mukhwevho’s podcast was in the spotlight again when Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye accused the mother of his child, Kelly Khumalo, of using witchcraft. Maarohanye was taken off the popular show Uyajola 9/9, which he hosts, and was told by the channel, Moja Love, that he could only come back if he apologised to Khumalo. Maarohanye has since publicly apologised to Khumalo.

The lack of regulation in online content creation is what appeals to the people starting controversial YouTube channels and podcasts. “Ultimately, this has been the appeal of digitised media spaces, as they allow for freedom of expression without the checks and balances traditional mediums face. While this has positive implications such as protecting against censorship and content controls, the dire consequences are evident through the controversial content being shared in these unregulated spaces,” said Taryn Isaacs De Vega, a media studies lecturer at Rhodes University.

Justine Limpitlaw, an electronic communications law specialist, said although podcasters and YouTubers aren’t bound by a Press Code, they are bound by the streaming platform’s community standards. “The fact of the matter is how well these standards are enforced. It’s well known that, for example, Facebook will regulate things in a certain country and lack the consistency in a different country, where perhaps the harmful content is in isiXhosa,” said Limpitlaw.

YouTuber Latasha Kebe. (Photo: YouTube)

But this kind of celebrity commentary, which is often defamatory and sexist, will persist because of the large followings it attracts. After Mukwevho crudely asked American R&B singer Ari Lennox about her sex life, many of Mukwevho’s followers went on social media to defend him, arguing that his line of questioning was appropriate because Lennox sings about sex. Similarly, Slik Talk regularly calls popular women “clout-chasing creeps”, “frauds” and “gold diggers”, and this has done nothing to dent his following.  

“These spaces are frequented by viewers, listeners and users who enjoy the controversial nature of the content. Thus the creators of the content have a following, regardless of how vile the content may be. Those who find the content unacceptable can voice concerns through public platforms and advocacy groups, as there is strength in numbers. In extreme cases, placing public pressure on streaming services, advertisers and corporate partners to pull sponsorship has become an effective route,” said Isaacs De Vega. DM168

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