The latest "How Africa Tweets 2018" report by Portland, an international strategic communications agency, has revealed that during elections in Afrikan countries, over 50% of those tweeting about them are from outside the country where elections are taking place. The report, which is in its 4th edition, analyzed thousands of Twitter users to determine their location and profession.
The analysis involves looking into the most influential voices driving Twitter conversations during 10 of the most recent elections in Afrika.
Download the "How Africa Tweets 2018" report.
“Our study is the first of its kind to systematically analyze which influencers are shaping the debate on Twitter during African elections. It reveals a complicated space in which multiple voices – often from outside the country in question – have an impact. For any organization wanting to engage its target audiences and shape conversation in Africa, Twitter remains an influential platform to engage institutional voices around key moments,” said Robert Watkinson, Partner for Africa at Portland.
The report's findings come from Portland's assessment of the top hashtags used during elections in Angola, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Rwanda, Senegal and Somaliland between June 2017 and March 2018 and analyzed the influencers of those conversations.
Who tweets during elections?
According to Portland's research, it's mostly non-local Twitter accounts and media outlets tweeting during elections in Afrikan countries.
Media outlets, journalists, bots and accounts campaigning for a cause or issue – such encouraging women to vote – were found to be the most influential voices on Twitter during the elections. According to the report, politicians and political parties were less influential, accounting for less than 10% of influence in 9 of the 10 elections studied.
Portland also looked into the role that Twitter bots play during elections and as revealed in the report, bots were active in tweeting during each of the elections analyzed.
Here are some of the key findings from the report:
The majority (53%) of leading voices came from outside the country in which the elections were contested. Of these external voices, on average just over half (54%) were from outside Africa. The US, UK, and France, in that order, were home to the most influential non-African voices shaping election conversations on Twitter. While, South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya, were the most influential African countries. In Liberia and Equatorial Guinea, voices from outside the continent – specifically from the US – accounted for the largest share of influential voices in the election overall.
Bots and accounts displaying machine-like behavior were active across all the elections. In Kenya, bots accounted for a quarter of influential voices. In contrast, in Rwanda, bots accounted for just four % of influential voices. Across all elections, bots served primarily to agitate, pushing negative narratives about major issues, candidates, and perceived electoral abnormalities. Following the elections, many bots had their election content removed, with some turning their attention to discussions outside Africa.
Politicians and political parties were not the main drivers of conversations in their countries, with local journalists and news outlets having a much greater influence. In Kenya, the number of politicians influencing the Twitter discussion doubled between the first and second elections but still failed to reach 10 percent. In Senegal, no politicians were identified among the influential handles. However, there was a notable exception in Rwanda where 1 in every 3 influential handles was a political account – the highest figure across all elections analyzed.
Although politicians and political parties were not necessarily influential on Twitter, the top hashtags used around each election often included direct references to them, including #umaangolaparatodos (Angola) and #Weah (Liberia). Kenya was a clear exception, where the top hashtags were either generic #electionske2017 or centered on the issues around the election including #nowweknow and #noreformsnoelections.
Non-domestic news outlets and journalists accounted for 1 in 5 of the handles fuelling discussion and debate around the ten elections. In Angola, this rose to 2 in every 5. Even in the elections where journalists and news outlets shared a lower influence, they were still the topmost authoritative voices.
With elections still to come in 2019 for Afrika's two largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, it will be important to keep an eye on how Twitter is used in some cases to influence narratives around elections.