Portland’s fourth study into ‘How Africa Tweets’ has found African governments are not immune from global issues such as fake news, the rise of bots and external influence on elections.
Our study is the first to identify and analyse who is shaping African Twitter conversations during elections over the past year. The study found that 53 per cent of the leading voices on Twitter around ten elections on the continent during the past year came from outside the country in which the elections were contested.
Bots, and accounts displaying machine-like behaviour, were active across all elections, particularly in Kenya, where they accounted for a quarter of all influential accounts.
One of the more surprising findings from the study was the limited influence politicians had on the conversation. Rwanda was the exception, where 1 in every 3 influential handles was a political account – the highest figure across all elections analysed. This doesn’t mean politicians weren’t being talked about. Many of the top hashtags included references to politicians or political parties, including #UmaAngolaParaTodos in Angola, #Weah in Liberia and #Kagame in Rwanda.
This study demonstrates that people continue to seek out the voices they trust with established journalists and news outlets consistently ranked in the top three influencers across all elections. With fake news and bots influencing conversations on social media, people continue to search for traditional sources of verified, accurate information.
Therefore, influencing narratives now also requires “getting inside the loop” – going to where people are, rather than relying on them coming to you. While Twitter remains a platform that people use to access their news, the use of social media has evolved and Twitter’s influence, whilst still profound, has somewhat been diluted by the growth of closed networks such as Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and Telegram.
These closed networks may present an ever greater challenge to those seeking to effectively reach their audiences. As audiences across the continent become ever more connected, there is a growing need for organisations and businesses to communicate through a tailored multi-channel approach.