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Africa Using Twitter for Political Conversations, Study Finds

  • Aline Barros

FILE - A portrait of the Twitter logo in Ventura, California.

FILE - A portrait of the Twitter logo in Ventura, California.

When Africans go on Twitter, they are increasingly talking politics.

A study done by Portland Communications, a London-based business, shows that nearly 10 percent of the most popular African hashtags in 2015 were related to political issues and politicians.

In the U.S. and Britain, only two percent of those conversations were about politics, the study shows.

The top political hashtag in Africa was #Nigeriadecides during Nigeria's presidential election in 2015. Another popular conversation was the strife in Burundi.

"In the U.K., we were using Twitter a lot and we wanted to know how Africa was using it. … And suddenly we noticed that everyone was curious, as well. … It showed us that people are using Twitter to have those important conversations," Mae Dobbs, Portland's senior account executive, told VOA.

The results make up the third part of the company's "How Africa Tweets" report. Dobbs says the first two stories were more "quantitative," while the new study shows the "rich" and "diverse" conversations that people in Africa are having.

Portland says it analyzed 1.6 billion geo-located tweets to determine the 5,000 most popular hashtags in Africa during 2015.

The report says Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Burundi and Egypt were the most active countries in the political conversations.

Tweeting in English

It notes that 77 percent of the tweets were in English.

"Our thoughts on the language is that the popularity of English has snowballed to the point where people want to use it on social media in order to be part of the global conversation," Dobbs said. "There were interesting ‘Englishizations’ of Arabic words, for example, which showed that those who speak Arabic are still interested in joining conversations in English in order to reach wider audiences.

"As we say in the report, we find that English is becoming the lingua franca of Twitter in Africa."

Egypt tweeted more than any other country in Africa, with about 450 million tweets. Among sub-Saharan countries, Nigeria led with 350 million tweets, followed by South Africa with 325 million.

Dobbs says people may feel more comfortable expressing their political opinions online.

"I think that is definitely that gut reaction that we had when we saw all that political data coming in," she said.

Dobb adds that journalists confirmed they used Twitter to obtain information when "it is a bit harder to do in a formal setting."

Portland says it may repeat its study in a year or two to track changes and compare information.