— Tracy Angus-Hammond (@T2T_Trace) July 6, 2015
Africa gets a tough press. Navigate to any mainstream western media outlet’s Africa section and the mix of stories will likely read as follows: corruption, poverty, child malnutrition, civil war… or, if you’re lucky, a 500 word colour piece on how rich westerners are helping to ‘save’ the continent from itself.
Perhaps worst of all is the actual imagery used by mainstream media to portray events on the African continent. Emaciated children, gun-slinging militants, drought and AIDS patients are all part of a litany of stock imagery reinforcing the archaic ‘dark continent’ narrative.
But the days when mainstream media dominated perceptions of Africa are over. The inexorable rise of social media and the omnipotence of smartphones carrying high quality cameras have combined to transform the 21st century human being into a reflexive self-publisher, capable of documenting everything from day-to-day life to big news events on our own terms. The latest poignant example of this is trending hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, which has attracted over 50,000 images from Africa since going viral last month.
The hashtag seeks to bust the stereotypes we’ve all become so wearisome of by uploading images of Africa at its vibrant, everyday best; glorious beaches, thronging cities, cultivated individuals and cultural celebrations, to name but a few of the hashtag’s ever-growing portfolio.
— ثقافة سودانية (@SudaneseCulture) July 9, 2015
Diana Salah, one of the campaign’s early adopters, told Fusion magazine that she wanted to fight back against stereotypes and help restore pride to Africans who may be made to feel ashamed by the barrage of dark continent-obsessed news and imagery.
“I got involved because growing up I was made to feel ashamed of my homeland, with negative images that paint Africa as a desolate continent,” she said.
— Nathalie Munya (@nathmunya) July 9, 2015
— NTA News (@NTANewsNow) July 1, 2015
“It’s so important to showcase the diversity & beauty of Africa and with mainstream media not up for the task, social media was the perfect outlet. #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou will continue to promote a positive image and also change misconceptions along the way,” Salah said.
The hashtag is now spreading to photo-sharing network Instagram, showing no sign of slowing up. But one surprising element of the hashtag that many people have missed does bear mentioning – most of the people using the hashtag on Twitter are posting from the United States.
The map above shows the percentage of tweets each country has contributed to the hashtag. The US is way ahead of the rest of the world on 14%, raising the question of whether #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou is really being owned by Africans themselves. Most likely, the high proportion of tweets from the US can be explained by the large, tech-savvy and smartphone-owning African diaspora there posting images from their past, or pics they’ve of Africa found elsewhere online.
One thing is for sure – very few of the images being shared would have been seen by so many people worldwide if traditional media outlets were in control of the hashtag.