September 29, 2012

Nigerian Twitter

Journal Article: Mapping the Twitterverse in the Developing World: An Analysis of Social Media Use in Nigeria (2012)

Authors: Clayton Fink, Jonathan Kopecky, Nathan Bos, and Max Thomas

Social media research is increasingly becoming popular in developing societies due to the influence it wields in the socio-economic and political sphere as tools for information sharing (in election campaigns for instance), public discussions (among citizens), social movement(s) organisation among other uses.

These authors therefore attempted to explain some of the methodological issues researchers may encounter when analysing social media and its users. Nigeria and Twitter were the cases in focus. Fink et al (2012) explored possible techniques that could be used in determining the demographic characteristics of Twitter users, especially ethnicity and location.

In analysing social media in Nigeria, they provided the geographic distribution of Twitter users, the contribution of mobile phone users to 'Nigerian Twitter' and an estimate of the ethnicity of these users. The significance of their research bears upon the fact that social media users are not representative of the entire populace. In fact, social media is often considered elitist in terms of access and uses. Thus, it is important to have an understanding of who is represented online (and who is neglected).


In summary, their findings indicate that in Nigerian-Twitter use, of the three major ethnic groups (Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa), one is under-represented - the Hausas who live in the Northern part of Nigeria. It is however important to note that there are estimated to be over 250 languages and ethnic groups in Nigeria.

According to the authors, Hausas 'have strikingly different views than other Nigerians (for instance Hausas tend to be proponents of the traditional Islamic law, Sharia).' This translates to the fact that when analysing Twitter content, researchers need to be aware that we might be under-representing certain views.

Fink et al (2012) also found that mobile devices made a significant contribution to Twitter usage in the Nigeria. This finding has been buttressed in many articles, news reports and features - CNN(7 ways mobile phone has changed Africa), TNW (Nigerian activist use mobile technology to prevent electoral fraud), World Future Review[PDF] (Africa's mobile phone revolution), among others.

In determining the ethnicity of Nigerian Twitter users, the authors worked with the assumption that a person's name is an indicator of ethnicity, thus employed machine learning (Support Vector Machines) in classifying user names as belonging to one of the three ethnicities. They created a fourth category, "other", comprising names from other Latin-script-based languages.


Fink et al (2012) conclude that social media is indeed a potential source for social and cultural data in studying developing societies. They however stress the importance of recognising whether the views on social media are of the educated elite or mainstream populace. This paper made an effort to address the issue through attempting to characterise online population.


My thesis is on developing a culture of democracy through an effective digital public sphere (in Nigeria). Previous posts on this blog have introduced my research to some extent , but I am yet to do a full post on just the public sphere (coming soon).

The relevance of Fink's study to my research is that Twitter (among other social network sites) is one of those platforms where citizens do come together online to interact and deliberate; whether they do so on issues of common concern or public good (as is Habermas's criteria) is open to debate. However, Fink et al (2012) have suggested a possible methodological technique(s) I could pursue in the future.

They have also provided me with interesting primary data on Nigeria's ethnic representation online. This is significant because democracy is particular about (seemingly) equal representation of voices. In fact, the Internet is perceived to be the enabler of a plurality of voices - where this is lacking, one might begin to appreciate the limitation of the Internet as a democratisation tool.

Please share your thoughts on this post in the comment box below and also kindly suggest similar literature you have come across on Nigeria or any other country's Twittersphere.

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Dudu

    Great blog and very interesting research, I think thats a very important point to remember that access to the internet is not evenly distributed. Other papers have argued for differences in gender (in Afghanistan), I find it interesting that the research you quote found ethnic differences. The type of access further structures the kind of engagement people will have with the internet, are they producers or just consumers of information. Lastly, anecdotal evidence from my circle of friends I find fewer people use twitter but almost everyone has a Facebook account. So the kind of social media may also influence who you find using it.

    16 Nov 2012, 03:26

  2. Tomi Oladepo

    Dudu thank you for this comment.

    Indeed the issue of the digital divide (locally or globally) will always be the Achilles heel when it comes to discussing democratic culture online – not everyone has access and I don’t suppose everyone ever would. I guess the question would be how much of “access” would have significant trickle-down effect/influence to those who don’t. That is, democratic culture is about citizens engaging, participating in discussions on matters of concern etc. Perhaps, if there is a bridge that can take the discussions online to offline, we may be able to salvage something.

    Also, your point on the kind of social network influencing who I may find using what is also very interesting and true. I was speaking to a digital media consultant at the BBC recently about this research by Clay & co, and she said BBC Africa’s Hausa (Northerners) Facebook Page has the highest and very active subscribers among language groups. This means the Northerners may not be active on Twitter, but could very well be dominating discourse elsewhere.

    Great comment. Thanks Dudu.

    16 Nov 2012, 08:54

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