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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.

July 27, 2012

Social Media "worries" Nigerian Government

Writing about web page

This is a news story published in a Nigerian daily newspaper online, Daily Independent, on July 27th, 2012

Excerpts from the report go:

Senate President David Mark on Thursday called for measures to check the negative tendencies of the social media to respect national security and values and encourage patriotism, just as he saluted the courage, doggedness and steadfastness of the Nigerian media.

“The emergence of social media like Facebook, twitter, blackberry messenger, YouTube, etc, have changed the face of media practice by making information sharing easier, faster and quicker.

“But, this is not without its demerits. Social media has become a threat to the ethics of media practice and good governance because of its accessibility and absolute freedom”, he said.

On his own, the Abia State governor, Thedore Orji, urged journalists to encourage Nigerian leaders by writing something good about them.

He advised them not to base their stories on internet information, which cannot be verified, but on the facts on ground available to them.

Social media is known to be used by citizens to articulate their views about governments - some have led to nationwide and transnational protests. The power of voices on these platforms has been so significant that governments have long abandoned attempts to ignore opinions expressed by the people. NYC Mayor Bloomberg says, "social media have made democratic polities more accessible to direct interventions by the populace. Social media are as close as it is possible to get to vox populi, the holy grail of democracy."

In strong or ideal democracies, people's voices should not be a threat, yet what authorities can't control threatens them.

This just reinforces Papacharissi's (2010:11) point on democracy. She says,

Democracy is often treated as a static concept that we either practice effectively, live up to honourably, or are unable to attain. Democracy, however, is imaginary. It is an abstraction. It is based on an ideal , subject to many interpretations, which then influence how the abstraction is practiced by nation-centric political systems.

Papacharissi's argument, simply put, is that democracy is an evolving and fluid term.Nations define its tenets as they deem fit to their respective socio-cultural frame. Therefore once we accept that, the nation-centric definition of what democracy is for Nigeria becomes more obvious when we attempt to thematise it from what is unsaid in Mark's articulation of social media and governance in Nigeria.

On what grounds according to this report does the Nigerian Senate President consider social media a "threat" to governance in Nigeria:

  • Social media (users) do not respect national security
  • Social media (users) do not respect national values
  • Use of social media does not encourage patriotism

Are these reasons sufficient to curb the freedom of expression?

The accessibilty and absolute freedom of expression are his main concerns.

Given the fact that only about twenty-three million Nigerians out of a population of approx one hundred and forty million people have access to the Internet, how access has become a concern is worth investigating. Could it be that the few talking are really making the government squirm? What would be the case if more people get talking (access is increased)?

This simply demonstrates the power of reasoning and deliberation among citizens, where criticism of the government often occurs (public sphere). An effective (liberal) public sphere chcecks the government and pushes it to stay accountable to the people through the medium of talk.

As I am a researcher just asking questions at the moment, I have a few more:

  1. Is access that is already limited to Nigerians, going to be further limited? How would that work?
  2. Is freedom of expression (online) going to be curtailed? and how? what about Nigerians in diaspora?

In some countries, people get jailed for tweets and numerous bloggers have been arrested - in both developed and developing democracies)

This articulation of the Nigerian senate president's take on social media and national governance is of significant interest to me because my thesis is on how a culture of democracy may be developed in Nigeria (developing nations), through an effective digital public sphere.

Papacharissi, Zizi. (2010) A Private Sphere - Democracy in a Digital Age. Cambridge: Polity Press

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