The Zimbabwean Perspective

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Parody accounts are Zimbabweans’ new favorite way to express their frustration online.

There’s probably healthier ways to go about this…..but…

Over the past month or so groups of Twitter accounts have arisen that all claimed to be based on big local companies like Econet or national utility parastatals like ZESA. These accounts even had the logos of the companies as profile accounts along with some seemingly legitimate bio details at first. Except they acted nothing like company owned handles, often starting trouble through controversial tweets or straight up insults to many a twitter user. At first some of thought these were all legitimate accounts too, but after a small while and some intervention from officials at some of the companies, it became clear that these were in fact fake “parody” accounts made to make fun of or simply troll the original company accounts. People’s thoughts about these accounts definitely differ, but as the title above suggests, these accounts seem to really just be one thing: a new way for Zimbabweans to express their grievances with their country.
To call the average Zimbabwean person “frustrated” is something of an understatement. Our country and its people have gone through a growing list of challenges over the past year, and none of them have been easy. We’ve all been left in a negative emotional state at some point and some of stay in that state as more and more developments about the country’s economy, health sector, educational sector or political parties prove one thing: the situation is only getting worse. I could do a whole segment about how that affects all of us emotionally and even psychologically but the basic conclusion would be that almost every Zimbabwean has multiple negative emotions they need to deal with; be it anger, helplessness, fear and an overall lack of hope that increases with each day. We’re not a happy country, not right now at least, and arguably all of us are trying to find our own ways to cope. A lot of us probably turn to our different faiths and religions(because when your government fails you there’s probably only one higher authority to turn to right?), others might go into some version of a stress induced unhealthy activity, be it eating, drinking, or the unfortunate rise in drug usage in high density suburbs, and now it seems a select group of people have decided to use social media to essentially make fun of the authorities and companies they can’t otherwise do anything about in their real lives.

Social media by nature is a tool for expression, and while direct expression of our disappointments with companies like ZESA , Econet, or even select politicians may work for some, let’s face it, it doesn’t seemingly do much when actually getting them to listen to our grievances. In fact it could be argued that by now people complaining is just noise that gets tuned out by them ,and whoever started making these parody accounts probably realized that. As we mentioned before, their actions in the past month have brought all the wrong kinds of controversy, for the actual companies that is. ZESA and Econet have both been releasing statements to clarify how these accounts aren’t officially affiliated with them , and constantly  having to run damage control clarifying where users should get their information. But if you were to search for Econet or ZESA on twitter, chances are its posts by the parody accounts that you’ll see at the top rather than the originals, and that simply means people are engaging with the fake accounts more. The reasons vary of course, some people legitimately keep complaining to these accounts (and get snarky or rude responses in return), while others of course have gotten in on the joke and now enjoy either bantering with said accounts or directing them towards authority figures they don’t like. It’s obviously not the healthiest of games when one thinks about it, in fact you could liken it to putting the face of someone you hate on a punching bag for motivation. Effective, but probably not the best version of motivation either. But it seems to work for many as a pseudo-therapy for them. As we said, social media is a medium for expression, and a seemingly safer space to express our frustrations over many key utilities I our country, all while feeling an odd satisfaction for knowing you’re spoofing them or maybe causing havoc for them on social media. It doesn’t really change anything, In fact we could easily talk about how the misinformation crisis this causes for anyone who isn’t well informed on which accounts are legitimate. But perhaps people need that right now, a sense of actually doing something even if it goes nowhere, and in country where everyone constantly seems like they’re going to lose mind with each news report, perhaps it’s not the worst thing ever to let people exhaust their collective stresses on a few twitter accounts.

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