In Twitter, there are truths

In Twitter, there are truths

For those using Twitter, take a look at wefollow if you haven’t already. Listing your account in there was all the rage a few months back and even though wefollow is just doing its thing at this point, a lot can be learned from it. For instance, if you’re twitting from Africa, add yourself to the list. Why? Have you taken a look at what comes up on the Africa tags?

Of the top 10 spots, one isn’t actually directly about Africa (#1 blackvoices) and six others are all charities. What does this tell us? Well, it could be a couple of things:

  • Despite already being on Twitter, many Africans simply don’t know about wefollow and so that’s skewing the statistics. Of course @maneno we try to follow whomever is involved in Africa and to date that’s only about 1,200 people on Twitter.
  • Charities are good at getting their follower numbers high. Undoubtedly Malaria No More got a massive boost with Ashton Kutcher’s whole deal to get one million followers awhile back and this just translates in to quantity, not quality.
  • Despite all the new media innovations, charities are still dominating the conversations about Africa.

It’s this last point that is the most poignant to look at because more people follow Camfed and their latest donations twit to fund their organization than what Erik and Allen are saying about new growth and innovation in Africa. I might add that Camfed has nearly twice the amount of followers as Erik and Allen’s put together.

But is this a question of these charities just being better at digital marketing or the fact that no one wants to hear what Africans are saying? Maybe it’s the old patriarchal manner of thinking that Africa is best spoken about by an intermediary who helps interpret what Africans are saying? Take a look at the top 100 number of followers by tag and you won’t see Africa or anything Africa-related in there. So, there appears to be an active lack of disinterest in Africa on Twitter. Also interesting to note is that all of those terms are in English so one could gather that Twitter expansion in to other language spheres is still just a drop in the bucket in their overall users.

Will this change in time? Yes, of course. Twitter is growing at a phenomenal rate and in theory wefollow will update with it to better track these trends. They do however echo what I’ve seen in general.
Oh, if you’re looking for the Maneno Twitter there, it’s usually on the second page somewhere in the 40’s.

16 Replies to “In Twitter, there are truths”

  1. And yet you fall into your very own quantity, not quality trap when going just by numbers. I would say that Erik’s smaller number of followers have a larger impact in changing Africa than all of Camfed’s followers, squared.
    So don’t focus on pure Twitter follower numbers – they’re very misleading.
    I personally screen all my followers and activity block those that are not ICT4D related. So while my quantity may be lower than others, I feel my follower quality is much higher for what I want to achieve.

  2. The numbers point to trends regardless of quality. Wefollow shows trends based on numbers. You can’t argue that Kutcher, with 3.5 million followers isn’t being heard by a lot people. And yes, someone with 4,100 followers may in theory have more interesting and important things to say, but who has the bigger impact? That’s completely subjective.
    My reference to Malaria No More’s numbers going up was an observation of their single organization. The overall trend from this is that as usual, Africans are not part of the discussion on Africa. Is it because they are being drowned out by those with better outreach or because no one wants to listen to them because they are busy listening to others talking about them or just because no one cares. Probably a mix of all of the above, but it’s interesting to see how it trends out on Twitter and wefollow.

  3. I think the interestin queston you bring up, and the Twitter numbers indicate, is why are Africans not leading the conversation on Africa.
    I would postulate that the main causes (in order of importance) are:
    1. Their main audience isn’t online – while the NGO sees reaching x number of Westerners as success for many reasons, and those Westerners are easiest reached online, the African businessmen I ask about their lack of web presence say that their customers (local government, NGO, and business staff) are not usually online.
    2. Much of African culture is still based on in-person meeting – one great example: even though we’d exchanged many emails and I’d paid for a service online, I couldn’t get a Ghanaian company to start work until I physically met the staff.
    3. The average African lacks the capacity to be online – as much as we talk about the mobile web on cell phones or new fiber to Africa, the average person is not online in their daily life, and even African techno-elite usage pales in comparison to the average Western or Japanese teen. So there is less propensity for Africans to learn about and then sign up for and then follow people on Twitter.

  4. I agree with Wayan’s last points. Most of Africa isn’t online or connected to Twitter. Certainly they can Twitter via SMS, but the costs to do so are prohibitive.
    Access to the information highway at the moment is skewed. NGO’s have offices that connect them to their external home offices via email, web, and yes, Twitter by default extension.
    The stats represent those with means to access and those without do not get represented in the stats. You have to show be able to show up before you are able to be counted.

  5. Yes, absolutely which gets back to the original point that there is something to be learned from stats like these in that they show who is part of the Africa conversation and who is listening to what.
    By the way, love ’em or hate ’em, what’s up with the protected updates on the (red) twitter?

  6. I think you are right when you say no one wants to listen to Africans. And those who try to, well, perhaps they aren’t “really” listening. Then, there is the truth (and lie) of what will be told to those who “really” listen. This truth (which is often a lie) will mirror quite closely what the listener wants to hear. Many Africans will echo beautifully what non-Africans say about Africa, thanks to decades (centuries, actually) of listening (closely) to what “those-who-speak-and-now-tweet” have to say about Africa.
    The comments above seem to carefully dodge the question you asked about some potentially “authentic” African voices being drowned out on Twitter and elsewhere. So I thought I’d chime in and make some noise. =)

  7. @AfricanGirl, thanks for chiming in. I think that in general there is an overall attitude of not listening in American/European culture which a friend of mine touched on awhile back here. Not only do trends on Twitter point to the fact African voices are being drowned out, but I’ve seen this in person in Africa as well where often the one or two non-Africans in a group take over the group discussion. Having grown up in America, I know the urge all too well as it’s part of the culture here to dominate, but we have to work to suppress it and actually allow a discussion to flourish otherwise it’s simply not a discussion and if it’s about Africa, it’s not doing anyone in Africa any good. I think that while access to the internet and thusly, Twitter is limited for most Africans, these statistics echo this face.

  8. Of course the digital divide issues and the conecrns raised by AfricanGirl are part of the reasons for the lack of Africa on Twitter. But, I am beginning to find that it is less that Africa is not there and more that it’s just hard to find.
    As pointed out, tags about Africa on things like WeFollow are dominated by NGOs. Perhaps this is partly because Westerners tend to think of Africa as one giant country instead of a continent. Are active African tweeters more likely to list things like their country, their activities, and their interests than just #Africa?
    Also, it is difficult to find people tweeting in languages other than English without specifically looking for a person. Twitter searches in foreign languages can be helpful, but they don’t work well. I’ve been trying to find tweeters who write in Tonga, but have trouble coming up with good Tonga searches – especially since, like many Bantu languages, one Tonga word is an entire English sentence.
    The best tactic I’ve found so far for locating people involved with Africa that I would like to follow (i.e. listen to) is to start with one, like @maneno or @kenyanpundit and see who they’re talking with, RTing and such.
    Anyone have any other suggestions?

  9. That’s quite a good point as a person in the US is more likely to have a tag of USA or America instead of North American or someone from Spain probably using Espana and not Europe.
    And it is true that if you search on tags for specific countries you do get more focused albeit smaller group such as Kenya (68), Ghana (37), and Congo (9). While still there, the amount of charities go down massively in the listings showing as you point out (and I’ve observed) that non-Africans do indeed Africa as one “country”. This is wonderfully summarize in this tweet.

    As for finding like-minded people, that’s a tough one. With the Maneno Twitter, we pretty much do what you’re saying which part of the reason that we only have about 1,200 people we follow. As to finding more people who write in Tonga, if you’re fluent in the language, I would suggest helping us create a language version of it on Maneno. While it’s not guarantee that everyone speaking Tonga on the web will find you here, it’s a good place to start and establish more of a digital presence for the language.

  10. I pretty much do what you suggest – I look at who others are following and scan them to see which ones I want to follow. I also employ Mr. Tweet – which automates some of this – to speed up the process.

    But I feel I have hit a wall – I can’t seem to find any new Tweeters who 1) focus on ICT & Africa, 2) who also tweet often, 3) with quality Africa + ICT tweets.

    I would love a targeted list to expand on http://www.ictworks.org/network/ictworks-network/151

    BTW: Why don’t URL’s show up automatically as live links in these comments?

  11. I’m afraid I am very far from fluent in Tonga. At my best, I could carry on a general conversation with most people I met. It being several years since I left Zambia, I’m now lucky to carry on a basic conversation with myself. I am however, studying it in an attempt to become better than I was before.

    Unfortunately, I also don’t know anyone who is fluent in Tonga and very comfortable with computers. If you need Bemba, I might be able to suggest someone.

  12. @Wayan It’s because of spam. If we go automatic, then we have to make comments only for registered users only because in addition to the pain of captchas, there is no system that is properly multilingual/low bandwidth, so they aren’t an option. If you want a link, implicitly make it with the tags.

    @goldenrail Bemba could be interesting. Drop us a note through the contact page if you have someone who would be up for doing it.

  13. Miguel,

    You make a good point on “Africa” vs. “Kenya” “Nigeria” etc. I see this with the word “American” – which implies representation of all the peoples of North, Central, and South America. At my family reunions in Mexico, saying “I’m American” will have you mercilessly taunted with maps, atlases, and the like till you stop.

    But then how can you aggregate African voices? I’ve tried to hunt down country specific voices via Afrigator and stopped after 3 hours of countries yielded 3 new quality blogs. At an hour per new voice, I’m looking at ~50 hours to get 50 new voices.

    AfricaGirl – would you have a shortcut?

  14. hi miquel!
    sorry for the delay in returning to the discussion.
    much to say, but as far as africans go and as far as africans talking and asking geat questions and offer bold critiques of technology, just go here and take a look.
    http://www.postnewsline.com/2009/09/technology-limbe-the-next-silicon-valley.html
    i am from cameroon so i am quite excited about this. finally, a ray of hope.
    i think it is time africans really interrogate the role of tech in africa. all too often, ICT or ehem, ITC4D is passed off as the grand thing that will transform africa.
    want to know what i think, as an african? just ask me.
    that’s the shortcut. if you want one. =)
    i am here and ready to answer. if you are ready to listen.
    by the way, i like what you said about americans. i have lived in the USA for quite some time now, so hey, i think i can say a thing or two about this great nation and the truth is, you are right about americans.
    cultural hegemony (and other kinds) is not an imagined thing. it is very real. many americans do expect that they and their country set the pace in the world, they assume the rest of the world ain’t caught up yet and ain’t caught on to the game. this is really sad because…it ain’t true. americans have (and are still) creating a society that is inhospitable to human life and peace of mind. technology is one of the culprits. it may do good, but it also does bad. i find that many technologists almost uniformly avoid discussing the shortcomings of technology. this is especially so when it comes to africa.
    witness what i call the OLPC nightmare in africa.
    how exactly is giving one laptop to every african child supposed to pull africa into the future? everything i’ve read about OLPC painst a picture of a new way of learning, learning by the laptop. doesn’t this sound strikingly like a very very very american or western thing? er, give your child a laptop and shut them up for a agood hour or so, while they explore.
    am i ranting? well, ok. i am just very frustrated.
    when were africans asked how they feel about this new way of schooling and learning using a gadget that is really going to turn into a fancy toy for most kids who get one? where are the african voices? i can almost bet that the african voices being listened to are the voices that say, “yes, yes, yes, sir, bring us that fine technology that you got over there in whiteman land.” listen to these voices long enough and one forgets that the african child has learned, for many years and lifetimes, without a laptop. and that african child is not inferior in intelligence in any way.
    sometimes, i wonder if every issue in africa can be linked back to the very pervasive and still-strong colonial discourse of african cultural and racial inferiority.
    as i said, it is very frustrating for me.
    i grew up being told that africans are inferior in some indelible way. i learned to insult my own kind and myself, more or less. i left africa and i found that it is also the way africa is portrayed in the west. the same ideology is everywhere. technologists can’t escape it, hard as they try. tey wind up just espousing it in newer, more subtle ways.
    sad as it is, the fact remains, we can’t seem to separate talking about africa and talking down to africa. why? why? why?
    do some of us need to feel better about ourselves? is that it? are we insecure in some way? are we stumped by the fact that science and technology, which promised for over a century to build africa, hasn’t yet turned africa into the west? are we too stubborn and arrogant to realize that it is time to stop talking about technology as the savior in africa? are we too ashamed to admit that technology failed in some very important ways and that it was (still is) a colonial (and neo-colonial) tool used to extract certain kinds of wealth from africa? used to trick africans into giving themselves up to faulty development agendas?
    ok, i think i’ve said enough for now. practically exhausted myself! thank you for opening up this discussion. my comments may or may not relate to twitter but i think they capture a part of the picture that is at the heart of why africans don’t speak or aren’t being listened to.

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