18-year-old Keabetswe Jan created the tweet “O jewa ke eng?”. Photo credit: Keabetswe Jan/Twitter/@akreana_
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‘O jewa ke eng?’ featured in the list of the Most Retweeted on 2019 Twitter global report

Tweets that get more Replies than RT’s are extremely rare which is why the “O jewa ke eng?” tweet became a global phenomenon despite being in an African indigenous language.

Open-ended questions like “O jewa ke eng?”  and viral memes like “sco pa tu manaa” and “bomboclaat” dominated this year’s most retweeted with comment list.

Twitter explained that the methodology used to create the list was ranking by the number of people tweeting about each topic instead of ranking by overall tweet volume. The platform wanted to know what got the most people talking, not just what was the loudest.

When 18-year-old Keabetswe Jan tweeted “O jewa ke eng?” a South African Sotho phrase, which loosely translates to ‘what is eating you up?’ or ‘what is troubling you?’ she can’t have anticipated it going viral and for Twitter users to use it to share their problems enmasse.

The tweet helped spark conversation around many taboo topics including mental health, child abuse, sexual harassment, and other issues that are not often discussed in public forums. Twitter is increasingly the go to platform for mobilising movements and finding community, which partially explains why a spontaneous open-ended tweet trended for months this year.

After months of retweets, and replies, ‘O jewa ke eng?’ was still trending only to be replaced by ‘Sco pa tu mana,’ a gibberish word originated by the Ghanaian hiplife act, Patapaa Amisty. This new trend was more visual than the former as twitter users utilised pictures instead of words to spark conversation and share experiences.

Specialists are still trying to understand why online trends can spark universal support. L. Gordon Brewer, a therapist who specializes in working with individuals and couples told Headspace that, “lowered boundaries, makes people feel more comfortable venting and discussing controversial topics, and more likely to share intimate details that are traditionally reserved for their inner circle.”

Despite ‘cancel ‘and ‘clap back’ culture, people can also be much kinder on the internet, more compassionate, and more likely to open up about their intimate struggles and thoughts. ‘O jewa ke eng?’ allowed people to be vulnerable about their situations while showing them that they are not in fact alone.

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