Social Media and Politics in Africa
eBook - ePub

Social Media and Politics in Africa

Democracy, Censorship and Security

Maggie Dwyer, Thomas Molony, Maggie Dwyer, Thomas Molony

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eBook - ePub

Social Media and Politics in Africa

Democracy, Censorship and Security

Maggie Dwyer, Thomas Molony, Maggie Dwyer, Thomas Molony

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The smartphone and social media have transformed Africa, allowing people across the continent to share ideas, organise, and participate in politics like never before. While both activists and governments alike have turned to social media as a new form of political mobilization, some African states have increasingly sought to clamp down on the technology, introducing restrictive laws or shutting down networks altogether. Drawing on over a dozen new empirical case studies – from Kenya to Somalia, South Africa to Tanzania – this collection explores how rapidly growing social media use is reshaping political engagement in Africa. But while social media has often been hailed as a liberating tool, the book demonstrates how it has often served to reinforce existing power dynamics, rather than challenge them. Featuring experts from a range of disciplines from across the continent, this collection is the first comprehensive overview of social media and politics in Africa. By examining the historical, political, and social context in which these media platforms are used, the book reveals the profound effects of cyber-activism, cyber-crime, state policing and surveillance on political participation.

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Informazioni

Editore
Zed Books
Anno
2019
ISBN
9781786995001
Maggie Dwyer and Thomas Molony
In Africa, like in most parts of the world, it is hard to imagine contemporary politics devoid of engagement on social media. Voters across the continent subscribe to politicians’ and parties’ feeds in order to be up to date; during elections it is commonplace to see people bent over smartphones, keeping abreast of the latest developments. More traditional forms of campaigning such as rallies and posters are still in place, but the messages are now amplified by supporters’ photos and videos that circulate on social media. Social media is also used to share first-hand recordings of crime and security incidents that have subsequently led to criticism of state security forces. Civil society organisations frequently try to gain support nationally and internationally by creating attention-grabbing hashtags for their campaigns. Radio and television call-in shows in Africa debate the latest trending topics, while journalists on the continent now regularly source many of their leads from social media.
The term ‘social media’ is understood in a variety of ways. Approached narrowly, it can describe person-to-person relations on social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter. Others consider Web 2.0 internet-based applications more broadly, and include photos, videos and other user-generated content (Hunsinger & Senft 2014: 1). The definition that most succinctly encapsulates the understandings of social media as discussed by the authors of this volume follows Jan Kietzmann et al. (2011: 241), who describe social media as ‘interactive platforms via which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content’.
This book deals with a variety of social media platforms that are used in sub-Saharan Africa. These include those with the highest number of users, as well as other platforms such as Twitter with a smaller but growing subscriber base. Figures published in 2018 show WhatsApp to be in clear first place in terms of the most active platforms in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Facebook, and then any of YouTube, Instagram or Facebook Messenger in either third, fourth or fifth place (We Are Social 2018a; 2018b; 2018d). While most countries in sub-Saharan Africa have these platforms in the top five of most popular social media, there are a small number of anomalies for the highest ranking, including Telegram in Ethiopia (We Are Social 2018a: slide 12).
Social media in Africa: disparities in use
Social media uptake rates are likely to rise significantly as new users come online for the first time. The number of internet users in Africa is up by more than 20 percent year on year, with reported users in Benin, Sierra Leone, Niger, and Mozambique more than doubling between January 2017 and January 2018, and those in Mali increasing by almost six times over the same period (Kemp 2018b). The country-level data for the year-on-year increase in the total amount of people using social media between 2017 and 2018 adds to the narrative of growth, with a number of African countries placed well above the worldwide growth average of 13 percent. Data on social media use (Kemp 2018a: 56) points to large increases in Ghana and South Africa – 22 and 20 percent respectively – but a closer look at other African countries reveals even higher growth rates from the likes of Somalia (33percent) and Sierra Leone (32percent) (We Are Social 2018a: 138; 2018c: 131). Both the latter two countries start from more modest baselines of active social media users as a percentage of the population. Tanzania (at 8 percent penetration) and Burundi (3percent) are particularly interesting in that they record a decrease in active social media users as a percentage of the population. These countries are covered here in chapters by Jean-Benoît Falisse and Hugues Nkengurutse (Burundi) and Charlotte Cross (Tanzania), whose focus on the actions of the state provide contextual explanations as to how the political environment may shape social media use and provide an explanatory factor for these figures.
The growth of social media use across much of Africa should not disguise disparities concerning access. Each of sub-Saharan Africa’s regions is below the global average (42percent) for social media pene-tration, with the highest level of users in southern Africa (31percent), the next closest western Africa (11percent), followed by eastern and central Africa (7and 6 percent respectively).1 Of the ten countries with the lowest social media penetration in the world, eight are African (Kemp 2018a: 55).
Some of the factors that have been selling points for the advantages of social media in Western democracies – such as its general widespread accessibility and affordability – have not translated to many parts of Africa. Those wanting to access the internet in some countries on the continent will pay among the highest rates in the world. Countries with no navigable route to the sea are especially vulnerable to high internet prices, with users in some paying on average double per month for broadband internet than users in coastal African countries (World Bank 2016: 212). The price of mobile data follows less of a pattern, with data charges fluctuating widely across the continent. The countries with the highest cost of mobile data include Angola, Chad, Guinea Bissau, South Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. In the case of Zimbabwe, mobile-data users pay on average nearly four times the amount per 1GB than the average paid by users in neighbouring countries (Research ICT Africa 2017b). Still, even for countries with lower mobile-data rates, low and inconsistent wages across much of the continent means mobile data, and the devices needed to get online, remain unaffordable to many.
Disparities in access to social media often overlap with broader issues of socio-economic gender inequalities. Many African countries perform poorly in terms of women’s access to social media (Bailur et al. 2018; Wyche & Olson 2018). The latest available data from Facebook shows a particularly strong male skew in South Sudan and some central and western African countries such as Chad, Niger and Mali (Kemp 2018a: 66). Informal sector, household and individual surveys covering close to 10,000 respondents in seven African countries – Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania – suggest a similar trend, with women recorded as being in a disadvantaged position vis-à-vis men on all counts in relation to mobile phone penetration, smartphone penetration, years of internet use, and social media use (Research ICT Africa 2017a: 12–17). This gendered gap in access to social media has the potential to further ‘entrench or exacerbate unequal gendered or classed power relations’ (Wasserman 2011: 149).
Urban/rural disparities provide another aspect of the unequal access seen within and between African countries. Social media use is greater in urban settlements (Research ICT Africa: 1822) and often especially prominent in capital cities. The chapters in this book reflect the current urban-centric nature of social media. However, the expansion of mobile phone networks into more rural areas suggests the potential for a narrowing of this gap and the need for more research into ways social media may affect dynamics and relations in rural communities (Porter 2016).
While African countries have some of the highest social media growth rates in the world, Nyabola (2018: 101) warns against assuming that social media users are the norm. Rather the people who are active online are ‘a subset of a subset of another subset – those who have access to electricity, those who have access to the internet and finally those who have accounts on social media’. Studies from Africa are now emerging that make visible the sizeable non-user population that has largely been rendered analytically invisible in earlier social media studies (for example, Wyche & Baumer 2017). Still, one should be wary of a clear-cut user/non-user dichotomy. As explained above, data costs in Africa can be very high, especially in the context of low and inconsistent wages. As a result, even those who use social media may do so irregularly, only buying small amounts of data when they have available funds, or intentionally restricting their use to sites or downloads that are not data heavy. Additionally, as the chapter on Sierra Leone by Maggie Dwyer, Jamie Hitchen and Thomas Molony demonstrates, information that originates on social media is often spread by word of mouth to those not using smartphones or the internet. This raises the importance of the role of ‘i...

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