South Africa

MISINFORMATION OP-ED

No matter what Elon Musk tweets about farm murders, two wrongs don’t make a white genocide

No matter what Elon Musk tweets about farm murders, two wrongs don’t make a white genocide
Elon Musk of Platform X (Twitter). (Photo: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg) | Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

Elon Musk’s posts about a ‘white genocide’ and claims that white farmers are killed every day have no basis and should be considered misinformation.

Social media conversation in South Africa saw a respite from the daily challenges of particularly black impoverished communities related to poor service delivery, corruption and high crime rates. Instead, the conversation that got fingers tapping was about EFF party leader Julius Malema and the owner of Twitter (now called X), Elon Musk.

Just two months ago, Wired published an article that quoted Musk saying the changes he made at Twitter were a return to free speech. He said it’s “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach”, hence people could tweet whatever they wanted. However, if the content is offensive, it will get downrated. 

“So, if you’re a jerk, your reach will drop,” said Musk.

After Malema sang the song “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer” at the EFF’s 10-year celebration on 29 July, Musk took to his own platform, making claims about white genocide in South Africa. This aligns with a post-apartheid narrative of “farm murders” and “white genocide”, which scared some white South Africans. A number even left the country for fear of their lives.

In 2012, the ANC pledged to refrain from singing the song because of the disturbing effect it could have on white South Africans. In the same year, Julius Malema was expelled from the party, leading him to create the EFF in 2013.

Holding Musk to account for saying that the reach will drop, the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) analysed the reach of posts from Elon Musk and Julius Malema made before and during the most recent conversation.

We see that Malema’s singing of the controversial song, in a nation trying to broker trust and stronger social bonds, caused a spike in conversation between 31 July and 2 August, and reached a plateau in the first week in August.

If we isolate the Malema vs Musk discussion on X, we see that Malema gained far more traction than Musk. Malema enjoyed about 20,000 mentions on 1 August, compared with Musk’s 5,000.

Some examples from 1 August, sorted by highest retweets, that reference Julius Malema include the following:

Qhawe: Tweet

Examples that reference Elon Musk on 1 August, also sorted by highest retweets in the CABC’s dataset, include the following:

The top tweeting accounts based on the farm murders and genocide narratives were Fox News, The Washington Post and a retweet by the arch-conservative Ben Shapiro. These tweets are shown below:

Turning away from references to Musk and Malema, the CABC then analysed the kind of reach they had before and during the spike in conversation.

From 24 to 30 July, the official account of Elon Musk created 268 mentions with a total reach of 1.21 billion users. Then, looking at the second date range, 31 July to 6 August – the week in which the conversation peaked – Musk’s mentions increased to 320 and the total reach of his posts dropped to below 1 billion (985 million users were reached).

So, while Musk tweeted, commented, retweeted or quote-tweeted more content in the week of the conversation spike, it appears that his reach dropped by 19%. This could be because of the “jerk downrating” that problematic content receives.

Comparing Julius Malema over the same period reveals 205 mentions and a total reach of 20.74 million. In the controversial week, Malema only created 86 mentions – 119 mentions less than the week before. However, Malema’s total reach that week jumped to 25.86 million.

A possible reason for the increase in Malema’s reach could be because of the platform or stage that he was given by Elon Musk’s 152 million followers, blowing Malema’s song completely out of proportion and making claims about a white genocide. 

Two examples of Musk’s tweets in relation to the narrative of so-called farm murders are shown below.

The narrative of a white genocide and farmers being murdered has been driven on social media platforms for a while. The reality, however, is far from the sentiment that Musk has erroneously created.

Johan Burger from the Institute for Security Studies compared the number of farm murders and attacks that were recorded by both police and the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU). The report shows the SA Police Service (SAPS) recorded 62 murders on farms in South Africa in 2018 while the TAU reported 33.

Regardless of which number is more accurate, this shows that Musk’s posts about a “white genocide”, and claims that white farmers are killed every day, have no basis and should be considered misinformation. Moreover, subject matter experts confirm that the statistics include black farmers and workers on farms.

Since 2019, AfriForum has used several sources, including the police, private security companies and victims, to report on the number of farm murders across South Africa. 

The graph below was compiled using the data in this AfriForum report and shows the number of farm murders recorded nationally between 2019 and 2022. 

In 2022, a total of 50 farm murders were reported. This is down from 63 and 55 in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

The report goes on to explain that of the 50 farm murders, 38% were of farmers (the race of these farmers is not specified in the report) and 20% were farm workers. 

While murder is never condoned, to put the number of 50 total murders into perspective nationally, SAPS annual crime stats for 2021 to 2022 show that a total of 25,181 murders occurred across the country. Combining the 2021 (55) and 2022 (50) numbers from the AfriForum report, farm murders contributed 0.4% – less than half a percent – to all murders committed in South Africa. 

Musk has not confirmed the source of his information. By all accounts, it appears that Musk’s tweet must be considered mis- or disinformation. 

It remains to be seen if Musk will set the record straight after stoking up negative sentiment based on unsubstantiated claims, and if Malema will be held accountable for hate speech based on the definition of such by the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. DM

Yossabel Chetty is a Lead Researcher at the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC).

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andre Swart says:

    Yossebel Chetty needs to be reminded about what happened in 1949 in South Africa!

    ‘The Durban riots were an anti-Indian riot that took place between 13–15 January 1949, primarily by Black South Africans targeting South African Indians in Durban, South Africa. It was the second deadliest massacre during apartheid.’

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      Hey Andre! Thank you for raising the 1949 Riots – it is yet another example in our history of thoughtless race baiting that led to such devastating consequences. There is quite a useful link on the SAhisory org site that explains all the parties that were involved in what unfolded at that event.

      Please feel free to share more info about those riots as you may have them! Knowledge sharing is where we all grow. If you’re not sure how valid a source is that you’re getting information from, send it to the Real411, an initiative run by Media Monitoring Africa.

  • Niek Joubert says:

    The biased, racist slant of this article makes it unconvincing. Placing an irrelevant photo of white South Africans having a meal with a black waiter servicing them, as a sarcastic illustration of how well whites live, really place this article in the gutter. Also, does the writer not realise that statistics should be measured in relation to the particular population; in this case the farming community. Why does DM risk its reputation with this kind of article?

  • Interesting article and good statistics. You should go one deeper and compare how many farmers there are, and what percentage of the population they represent. This will show if the murder rate is higher than the national average.

    • John Strydom says:

      Absolutely.

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      This is a good suggestion and a great direction to keep going for more information! I think that the Afriforum report needs to disclose of the 50 people murdered, 19 were called “farmers” and 10 were called “farm workers” – if Afriforum discloses the races of the farmers and farm workers, that could create a lot of transparency on this subject.

  • Gareth Murray says:

    Well, if its not a genocide then Chetty must surely acknowledge here’s severe problem & that farmers are being targeted. If you add up all the murders that SAPS has recorded from 2001 to 2018 you get 1067, & there’s no data for the years 2008-2010. And then if you factor in the years 2019-2023 then the number will be much higher. We should not forget about the broader economic impact, the loss of jobs, productive capacity & experienced farmers packing up & going to farm in Africa & the USA. I am glad Elon is taking this up, it has become too easy & convenient in this day & age to brush away the subject of farmers murders because leftist journalists will always go along with the post-modernist line that whites & whiteness are the reasons for all that’s wrong with the world & minimize issues like the singing of ‘kill the Boer’. If someone can’t see that singing that song is hate speech & incendiary, then they are denying basic common sense & everything they can see & hear.

    • Philip Armstrong says:

      Well said. I think the article is shameful in its bias and the dreadful impact on farmers including farm workers whatever their race or creed and the broader impact on an important economic sector is disproportionate to the somewhat loose comparisons made by this journalist. DM you can do better.

    • Gerrie Pretorius says:

      Well said!!

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      Hi Gareth! So the stats that I used relating to farm murders at the bottom of the article was taken from an Afriforum report. They worked in conjuction with the Police, Private Security and victims of violence in farm areas to get those 2019 -2022 figures.

  • John Kannemeyer says:

    Yossebel, at least Musk has not removed Malema from X(twitter) which is interesting.

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      Let’s hope he doesn’t cancel me too after this article 😀 but his act in kicking Malema off goes against his whole shpiel on Freedom of Speech. The South African people and government must charge Malema and take him to task for the singing of that disgusting song. There is no place for it in South Africa. But, there is also no place for telling more than 15 million followers that “they are actually killing white farmers every day”. Afriforum’s own numbers show that what he is claiming is impossible. If he can show us the source of where he got that information, then let’s understand it better. Crime and poor service delivery affect ALL races in South Africa, particularly the black majority, and is a huge problem. No one can deny that.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    While I agree that talk of white genocide etc is misinformation and exaggerated, I always find it interesting that articles that argue against it often omit, or seriously downplay the absolute ultraviolence down to torture that is being practiced by farm murderers before they execute their victims. Surviving victims do seem to report that at least in some cases, revenge against white people is definitely part of the problem. This behavior is often denied by the police and some media commentators that seem to suggest that the sole motivation for these farm attacks is robbery. That the police is purely reactive in many cases, seeming to be unable to prevent farm attacks no matter the race of the farmer is obviously not helping.
    I believe this denial and prevention failure, coupled with the near dismissive attitude that songs like “Kill the boer” and speeches like Malemas “cut the throat of whiteness” could lead to actual incitement and feed the fear of racial retribution, are reasons the white genocide trope is so stubborn. On the one hand we don’t want people to spread misinformation about white genocide, on the other we support it by not acting on behavior that is clear damaging our society like Malemas regular forays into hate speech (which they absolutely are). Now add the very selective outrage and actions against hate speech by SAHRC, the government and some media commentators, and you have fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      Very well put Karl and thank you for pointing out the terrible nature of these murders. What you write toward the bottom is the point that the article is trying to make. Malema must be taken to task for the racist slurs he made in that song but Musk giving him such a huge platform and not backing up what he was saying is so problematic especially because what Musk typed doesn’t appear to be steeped in fact. Perhaps in conspiracy?

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      From my observations, the EFF have a very solid strategy to be as loud as possible and leverage as much free media attention as they can. Musk handed it to Malema on a platinum platter.

      • Antonio Arrocha says:

        Musk handed Malema a media voice sure, I get that, but let us not forget, this would be the third article in DM from the July, August time frame that you mention, on this very issue.

        The first was an explanation of a satirical comment, which was quite insensitive and added fuel the fire, followed up by an equally demeaning article backing up the first, and now yours.
        The authors of these two previous pieces both contribute to DM.
        Neither of these two pieces were particularly well received, understandably, considering the violent nature of the murders.
        Personally, I believe an apology was in order for the so-called satire, but then, an alien would probably visit me to put my thinking straight … according to DM.

        DM can claim the moral high ground all it wants, but consistently throwing around opinion on this, it is just adding another platform for Malema to put in a guest appearance.

  • Ron Ron says:

    A simple comparison of achievements between Elon Musk, one of the most objectively successful people in economic terms in history and the leader of the EFF, who is yet to create any economic freedom for anyone but himself and his pals, tells me all I need to know.

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      Exactly, Malema’s party only had about 9% support in the country last time I checked. He runs on populist tactics and there is a great study called “Populism and inequality: Does reality match the populist rhetoric?” that shows that the lives of the poor don’t actually improve under populist leaders. But the lives of such leaders and their friends and family does. Big time!

  • Niki Moore says:

    DM really is desperate to downplay their stance on farm murders, aren’t they? One can make statistics mean anything.
    But when your 70-year-old neighbour was tied up, beaten with an iron rod and tortured with boiling water, it does tend to make one a bit uneasy. Forgive us for wondering if we will be next.
    Maybe Richard Poplak and Pierre de Vos would next like to be flippant about child rape? Then DM can trot out a number of scholarly articles – with statistics – demonstrating how child rapes are really not as bad as we think.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    So. What you’re saying is that it’s okay to kill 20 farmers a year ( in a good year nog al! – could be 25 farmers a year in a bad year!) rather than legislate and call out hate speech/songs for what they are – incitement to violence? I think that Musk is right in pointing out that SA farmers are mostly white and that violence in the end is violence.
    If the writer of this article has a race issue to write about perhaps he should concentrate on our racist BEE policies that inhibit investment in this country. More investment = more jobs = less time to kill farmers and sing racist songs!

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      Dear Jane, the article doesn’t say that its ok to kill 20 farmers. It quite clearly states “murder is never condoned”. The purpose of the article is to hold influential people like Elon Musk to account for the statements they make that lead to panic and potentially the backing out by foreign direct investors. Imagine a more conservative US organisation seeing Musks posts claiming that “white farmers are being killed everyday” – don’t you think, that would make people more inclined to pull out investment?

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    I cannot understand why analysis of X accounts can fall under the title “Two wrongs do not make a Right”?
    Revising the history of the subject we recall:
    1. The cessation of the Commando units, which acted as a community protection service not simply a white protection group!
    2. The disarming of rural dwellers so that they became more susceptible to attack.
    3. The progressive increase in pressure on farming communities, both actual and implied, the object being to drive them from their land. This persists today?
    In 1994 there were less than 70,000 commercial farmers in the country ( 0.07%) of the population, who maintained the national position of self sufficiency in food supply (1 of 5 countries worldwide). This ceased in about 2000!
    Whether 1 or 100 farm attacks occur each is a hate crime which adversely affects our food and national security. Whether a song or battle cry is traditional or not is irrelevant, both should be banned and the performer severely punished

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Hear hear!

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      There are now less than 30000 productive farmers left in this country who have not “moved to greener pastures” ( ie killed or emigrated). And of that number only about 6000 commercial farmers earning the country export capital. You continue to murder these men of the land you murder any chance of South Africa’s survival as one of the few economically viable countries left in Africa.

  • TherealMalcolm x says:

    Surely this Article should have been in the Opinionistas section of DM – the type of article that I don’t even waste my time to read.

    • Alan Downing says:

      The article is clearly straplined “Misinformation op-ed”.

      • Yossabel Chetty says:

        Arnold doesn’t waste his time reading though so he wouldn’t have seen that 🙁 I’m also bummed that you can’t just read the article, you have to sign in to do so because if you read the top it looks like an Anti-Musk manifesto, which its not. I even commended him on the fact that his “jerk downrating” algorithm appears to work. The stats from Afriforum are at the bottom of the article and if people only read a headline and roll their eyes, they won’t see that I included that Malema should be held accountable for hate speech used in that song.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    “Lead Researcher at the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change”?

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    The general problem is that we are presented with two extremists – Musk propagating a “scared whites” narrative and Malema’s crude antagonistic baiting of the white community (the EFF has made it clear in no uncertain terms that they want to make whites feel uncomfortable). I have seen a proper analysis of farm murder rates in period leading up to 2019; there was considerable uncertainty inherent in the data (what qualifies as a farm; whose murder qualifies as a farm murder etc) but a conservative estimate was that the farm murder rate was slightly higher than the national average. The case isn’t closed however as farm murder rates should be much lower if compared to global standards – just as affluent (white) suburbs have murder rates of less than 10% of the national average, farms should (in theory) be much safer than slums and poverty stricken townships (hence our desire to improve people’s standard of living). The added impact is that of food security, and some attention is warranted to the fact that farm attacks and theft is actually out of control – the latter reaching shocking proportions in some areas. It would be great if a reputable publication like DM can get some expert input on the statistics and interpretation thereof, instead of just platforming one-sided views.

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      This is a very thoughtfully constructed comment. Thank you for pointing out the problem with extremism – Hence, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • Dave Jacobs says:

    Once again, I find myself reading an article on this platform that attempts to downplay the severity and impact of farm murders in South Africa. It’s concerning to observe a recurring theme in DM’s coverage on this matter. While statistics can be a powerful tool for understanding complex issues, they must be employed responsibly and not be used to diminish the experiences of those directly affected by such heinous crimes. Each farm murder has a deeply personal and lasting impact on the families and communities involved.

    I respect DM’s mission statement, which emphasizes aiding readers in “making better decisions” and “having better conversations”. But I must question: does consistent downplaying of such a significant issue truly align with that goal? A diverse range of opinions is essential for a balanced discourse, but it’s imperative that these views are underpinned by a commitment to accurate representation and empathy.

    I sincerely hope DM takes a moment to reflect on its approach to this subject, ensuring its coverage is balanced to genuinely contribute to a better, more informed society.

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    I am not a white farmer but as a white person in SA I take extreme exception to what JM is doing. This is a clear incitement to violence by a politician on a public platform for political gain. It should not happen. Imagine John Steenhausen standing up singing “kill the blacks”? He would be arrested immediately and thrown into jail.
    The stats are not reflecting what is actaully happening – how many white farmers are left in SA and how many of then are being killed anually? Those are the real stats that we should be looking at. One also has to look at the general MO. In all of the cases that I know about, all of the farmers have been tortured before being put to death.

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      I am not a white farmer either and I also take extreme exception to what Malema sang. The ANC banned this song in 2012 when Malema used it to stir up nonsense and 10 years after creating the EFF, he goes and sings the song again! The guy has not learnt his lesson and he must be held accountable. It’s exactly like the Steenhuisen example you gave – none of this is acceptable in today’s South Africa.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The song is not a revolutionary song inspiring supporters to attack large farms with armed and prepared farmers. Instead, most murders seem to be opportunistic attacks on elderly people on small farms. Exclude attacks that are personal – or no different that a factory worker attacking a supervisor, I don’t believe there are a significant number of attacks in furtherance of the revolution.

    Malema’s crowd is too cowardly, too disinterested or too disorganized to try an actual attack.

    • Theresa Avenant says:

      Reply to Johan – Part I. I agree with you Johan. One has to perceive the reality that South Africa’s crime has escalated and that many (usually old) people living farms are easy targets. Social and economic patterns have changed in relation to agriculture where farms have been owned by the same family for many generations. Nowadays, many young people who do not wish to pursue a career in agriculture will go their own way and their parents become vulnerable when there is nobody in the family to take over. I think many old people are reluctant to leave the farms because they know nothing else but farming. They then become sitting ducks to people wanting to commit ordinary crimes like robbery. On the other hand there are, understandably many murders committed in revenge of how badly farm workers are treated (and often murdered) by their farm bosses. One always needs to look at the overall picture. SAPS is not performing their purpose as well as they used to (to put it mildly) and it has become necessary for farmers to employ private security to protect themselves. Poorer farmers with smaller farms are suffering as the development of large, industrialized farming is on the increase. Farmers and the government need to work together to find solutions that will protect and accommodate both developed and developing farms.

    • Theresa Avenant says:

      Reply to Johan – part II . I recently read a book entitled “These are not gentle people” by Andrew Harding who wrote a true account of the most horrific and brutal murders of young farm workers who tried to steal food. The whole truth about farm workers and farm murders and how each of them fit into the political, social and economic paradigm needs to be investigated and addressed. I’m sure there are many initiatives in place that are trying to serve this purpose but people don’t know about them. It would be great if we could hear about some of these.

    • Yossabel Chetty says:

      I could not agree with you more on that last sentence. Their “national shutdown” at the start of the year was an absolute joke. It was a planned protest. There are some very clever political strategists sitting within the EFF and musks trigger happy tweeting appears to have played right into the “look at me!” strategy they have going on.

  • andrew farrer says:

    “So, if you’re a jerk, your reach will drop,” – so elon’s reach should go negative?

  • andrew farrer says:

    Stats & Lies! So Chetty/ DM, how about you give the stats on the farm murders as a % of the farming community in SA (these numbers should be available from Stats SA/ Afirforum?). As a number on it’s own it may look small, but against the small farming community, I’m fairly sure that would no longer be the case.

  • Richard M says:

    As a Lead Analyst you surely understand that context is everything… The context in which you (& DM) downplay and dismiss the seriousness of actual brutal murders and inhumane torture is shocking and should also be considered mis-information in itself. Far lesser issues (than these murders) gets more support and attention from the media…globally.

    In using the statistics in the article in the correct context it should show:
    +25 000 murders Nationally in 1 year = 0.0417% of the population
    +50 farm murders (if correct) in 1 year = 0.17% of the farming community
    This results in a 4.1 x HIGHER RISK of being murdered if you are a farmer than the average person in SA. Is that normal? Then we are not even considering the effect of the brutal torture (which is undeniable) as I presume there are no proper statistics on this…and the media chose to ignore this part of the context completely.
    Lastly, losing 42 000 farmers over 30 years (not just by murder but by increased policy, prices, political pressure and physical torture) will result in us having no farmers left in ONLY 21 years from now, if this trend continues. With the farming community decreasing yearly, the % impact of murders will increase hyperbolically, year on year. You can sway stats in many ways…but in the end it shows your bias and intent if taken out of context…

    Is it now worse to X about possible ‘genocide’ (freedom of speech) than openly call for the murder of any person/s (hate speech)?

  • Johann Olivier says:

    A column about 2 idiots. Pass.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Who sponsors CABC?. Me thinks you protestest too much and quite unprofessionally with emojis and all, not like a scientist researcher. Denise Smit

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