Do Tokoloshes Drive South African Newspapers' Facebook Engagement?

What would you uncover if you decided to find out what the most liked, commented news articles in South Africa are?

Let's find out.

The Facebook Graph API provides a rich source of data about Facebook entities. When it comes to Facebook Pages, not only can you access posts by the page and other users on that page, you can also access analytics (number of likes, comments etc.) about each of the posts.

This is a wealth of information that can give us an indication of which news articles grab the attention of users on South African news sites the most.

To start this investigation, we first have to choose a subset of newspapers in South Africa which have active Facebook pages. For this analysis, four newspapers were chosen, on the basis of the number of followers they have. This will ensure we have some comparable results. If we choose newspapers that have little following, comparing their numbers becomes less insightful. The next table shows the newspapers/media houses and their Facebook details (as of early October 2015)

Newspaper Facebook Followers
News24 1,942,023
Daily Sun 760,919
TimesLIVE 662,490
Mail & Guardian 331,448

We can look at the content shared via the newspapers via their Facebook pages in two ways. One, which is has a lower barrier of participation is the number of likes on a post. When we look at this metric (shown in the figure below), we see that Daily Sun consistently has articles have number of likes compared to other newspapers.

There is a single outlier in that the most liked TimesLive article is also the most liked compared to all other newspapers. This begs us to go deeper and look at what this mythical TimesLive article is. It turns out to be a positive story (its not just bad news that sells) about matriculants from Park Town High School for Girls (see below).

Hmm, what about the top (most liked) Daily Sun article? It also turns out to be very positive, actually very heart-warming story about an old couple.

Does this restore your faith in humanity? Lets look at the other way you can look at interactions with the newspaper Facebook pages. This one has a higher barrier to entry compared to likes, this metric is the number of comments.

When we look at the comments, it's very clear who dominates here. Daily sun seems to have engagement second to none. The other newspaper Facebook pages can't even dream of the numbers Daily Sun generates. The articles that generate the most comments (almost expected) tend to be controversial topics, which are not really aided when editors take creative liberty with headlines.
In the case of Daily Sun, the top commented articles are about "Children between the ages of 12 and 16 can now have sex with each other without the fear of being jailed" (below) and Gogo accused of theft is beaten up

At the same time, when looking at the most commented TimesLive article, it is concerned with the return of the Soapie Generations. Let us look at the word-clouds of the most commented Daily Sun and News24 articles. First the Daily Sun article title word clouds of the top 20 most commented articles.

We can see these are dominated by the story of Senzo Meyiwa's passing as well as the ensuing tug of war between Kelly Khumalo and his family. The other stories are of Generations and Bafana Bafana. Now lets look at News24.

With News 24 the top comments are on articles about the President, Jacob Zuma, Homo Naledi and Julius Malema. This is a clear difference between the two papers and likely shows the differences in their target markets. Do you have any other insights you might want to be extracted from such a dataset? Ask in the comments section below.

And to answer the question of the title of this post, Tokoloshe's don't seem to drive the user engagement of these SA newspapers.

Vukosi Marivate

About Vukosi Marivate

Dr. Vukosi Marivate is a Data Hoarder. Writes in his personal capacity on interesting things we can learn from data. Works for CSIR, ex-intern at Google Inc. PhD, CompSci, Rutgers University (USA)