For its fourth 'How Africa Tweets' study, Portland, an international strategic communications agency, analysed thousands of Twitter handles to determine the location and profession of the most influential voices driving Twitter conversation during 10 recent African elections.
The study assessed 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 analysed the influencers of those conversations.
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.
Notably, politicians and political parties were less influential, accounting for less than 10% of influence in 9 of the 10 elections studied.
The key findings of Portland's study were:
1) 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.
2) Bots and accounts displaying machine-like behaviour 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.
3) 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 per cent. 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 analysed.
4) 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 centred on the issues around the election including #nowweknow and #noreformsnoelections.
5) 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 top most authoritative voices.
Robert Watkinson, Portland's Partner for Africa said, "Our study is the first of its kind to systematically analyse 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 impact. For any organisation wanting to engage its target audiences and shape conversation in Africa, Twitter remains an influential platform to engage institutional voices around key moments."
Meanwhile, Portland's Partner and Head of SPARC (Strategy, Planning, Analytics, Research + Creative), Gregor Poynton said, "This is the first piece of thought leadership that Portland has launched utilising the integrated expertise of our newly formed unit SPARC. The team designed a bespoke methodology using a cutting edge social intelligence tool and mapped each account handle to understand the networks of influence behind each election. We are delighted to share our findings today, which include a release of the data set analysed."