Say what you will about Jacob Zuma, but the man is no fool. It may gall some of us, but when it comes to the workings of the mind of the person in the street, he has been pretty smart. He won two general elections despite his allegedly corrupt activities being known to all. So his decision to join the social media whirl is not to be underestimated or pooh-poohed. Zuma wants something and he knows that having a huge, pliable constituency helps. He is building that constituency through social media. He is not the first politician — and particularly not the first populist politician — to cut out the middleman that is the traditional, carefully curated, healthily sceptical media. All across the globe, in societies experiencing fear, division and inequality, politicians are using social media to stoke concerns, spread populist messages and, crucially, win power. Take Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro. The man totally ignored mainstream media during his campaign and concentrated on a...

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