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Decoding news and reception: an investigation into the discourses on selected Facebook news sites around reports of the South African farmland attacks (2017 to 2018)

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This qualitative study investigates the encoding and decoding of farm attacks in South Africa during the period 2017- 2018. The corpus for analytical inquiry is drawn from the online news sites BBC News and IOL and the Facebook comments they elicited. Data was collected through nonprobability sampling in an unobtrusive netnographic approach. The study achieves theoretical triangulation by an application of Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding theory of reception as well as critical discourse analysis to the same corpus. Van Dijk’s (2001) ideological squaring was a useful heuristic to map the polarized ideological divide between white farmers and their support groups and black farm workers and their sympathizers. Rhetorical tropes of card stacking plain folks, emotional stereotypes and ad hominem fallacies as well as the use of celebrities were used to foreground the plight of white farmers in a hyperbolic claim of “white genocide”. Backgrounded in this discourse was the inequity stemming from blacks being dispossessed of land, white farmer assaults on black farmworkers and the exploitative economic relations that trapped farm workers in a cycle of poverty. Facebook inadvertently reinforced these polarised perspectives by algorithmic curation of news manifest in the form of filter bubbles and echo chambers that isolated users from alternate views. Hall’s theory of encoding/decoding showed that interpretation of the corpus emanated from individual subjectivities which ventilated pre-existing bias by hegemonic and negotiated readings when news corresponded to their interest and oppositional readings when it did not. Both critical discourse analysis and Hall’s encoding/decoding theories, when viewed in relation to citizen journalism in the form of Facebook comments, decentered the role of BBC News and IOL in communicating hegemonic ideologies and messages to consumers.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.