Judith Asuni of Academic Associates Peaceworks and Jacqueline Farris of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation have recently released a comprehensive report, “Tracking Social Media: the Social Media Tracking Centre and the 2011 Nigerian Election” (PDF), where they attempt to evaluate the impact of social media and information communication technologies such as mobile phones, SMS, Facebook, and Twitter on Nigeria’s recent elections.
Although the April polls were the first to include widely available social media, Nigeria now holds the continent’s record for most tracked reports of social media use during an election, with nearly half a million examples cataloged by the proprietary software at the Social Media Tracking Centre. On the day of the presidential election alone, the centre collected over one hundred and thirty thousand tweets and public Facebook posts. Though Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country, for technologies so new this is an accomplishment, and it underscores Nigeria’s leadership in the use social media on the continent.
Asuni and Farris acknowledge the difficulty of determining if social media actually altered the outcome of elections. They do point to some anecdotal evidence: in one instance, a ‘citizen observer’ tweeted about possible election rigging in Imo state, which motivated trained observers to investigate and then caused a relative flurry of online discussion, possibly contributing to the defeat of the candidate accused of rigging.
Conversely, their report also includes an SMS message that is intended to motivate sectarian hatred and “may have contributed to the killings of as many as four hundred Muslims in southern Kaduna.” This has happened in the past in Jos, which Asch Harwood and I wrote about last year.
At a broader level, there clearly has been a transformation with respect to how Nigerians participate in elections. The authors point to increased participation of young voters, the improved ability of traditional media houses and citizen observers to disseminate information quickly, the heightened linkages among Nigerians who might never interact as well as with INEC and civil society, and the capability to measure the volume and content of communication. Nevertheless, the electoral outcome was significantly determined by the people who have always run Nigeria. Should these developments continue, they could have a significant and positive impact on the development of democratic institutions.
Read the whole report here.