Nigeria Elections 2023 – the impact of social media influencers and fake news

I recently watched a couple of short news documentaries about the impact of social media in the forthcoming Nigerian Elections 2023. After viewing both films, I wondered whether social media has democratised political elections or whether fake news outweighs the discussions in the public sphere.

BBC Africa Article – The Nigerian influencers paid to manipulate your vote

The in-depth news bulletin from BBC Africa gives an insight into the use of social media influencers who are paid by political parties to share misinformation and disinformation. According to the BBC, influencers are targeted who have a strong voice, not particularly those involved in political discussions. It is technically not illegal to hire someone, but it is to share misinformation. These influencers are controlled by political strategists and paid up to $45,000 for posting propaganda.

Whereas, Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture has supposedly taken several measures to stop fake news including meetings with Meta and Google to ask them to check their platforms for misuse. But do we believe that these meetings ever actually happened? UNDP has recently released iVerify which combines technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning with human supported fact checking to combat the spread of misinformation during elections. But will the Nigerian government ever let iVerify be implemented in their country? And, if so, who will the verifying “humans” be?

I asked three young Nigerians who all have experience in communications and media whether they thought social media had a big impact on the result of elections in Nigeria. I have anonymised their comments

“Indeed social media has been agog regarding the upcoming Nigerian elections. For many like me in the diaspora, social media has more than catered to our political sensibilities, it’s been crucial to the ‘performance’ of our civic responsibilities and patriotism, given we’re relatively disenfranchised. We, as Netizens have cast our votes. And if social media votes are anything to go by, then the electorate have declared their winner. Yet it remains to be seen, if those privileged to exist in both realms will translate the online campaigns/advocacy to electoral realities by going to the polls to cast the ‘physical vote.’ In the end, politics (in Nigeria, and elsewhere), is not always what it seems.”

Respondent 1

Another colleague commented:

“Yes, social media does impact elections in Nigeria at least since the 2015 elections when the previous administration was voted out as a result of a massive online and offline campaigns that started on Twitter and spread to other social media sites. Although I wouldn’t draw a direct line between social media and election outcomes in Nigeria, I would say that social media plays an early role in elite and youth mobilisation towards a political movement. 

Examples are the ENDSARS protests and the massive voter registrations (12 million new registrations) that occurred mostly due to campaigns and advocacy on social media. Both translated into real life in-person actions. 

However, sometimes when there is a divergence between what elite want and what youths want. So, the elites can mobilise resources against youth action both online and in grassroots communities where they’re influential. 

Essentially, social media has some impact on elections and people in Nigeria admit and deny its existence at different points depending on what’s convenient even though their actions mostly acknowledge the influence. This influence is not direct, in my opinion. At least there’s nothing to prove it is.”

Respondent 2

And finally, the third point of view

Yes, social media has a significant impact on elections in terms of constructing narratives and spreading information. It has done a lot to place Peter Obi (past Anambra State Governor and one of the youngest presidential contenders) in the hearts of the youngsters while portraying Tinubu (past Lagos State Governor and one of the oldest presidential candidates) as a tyrant. 

However, in previous elections, there has also been slacktivism at work because most people on social media (especially Twitter, which is the platform most commonly used for election information, propaganda, and so on) tend to come out in mass on social media but you will not see them on the actual day of voting (also because of fear of rioting or due to the fact that some are outside the countries or they dont think their vote really counts). Market ladies, the elderly generation, and those who do not follow social media trends are the ones that vote. (These individuals vote depending on the political party they favour, the person, or if they come from the same region as the political candidate.)

There seems to be a change this year, thanks to campaigns on social. More youths have gotten their permanent voters cards and have decided to be more actively involved. More celebrities are vocal about their political stand on social media. We don’t know if this will make a significant difference but youths engagement and participation has increased significantly.

Respondent 3

Three slightly different opinions, but all agree that social media does have an impact on the Nigerian elections. At least it has in the past. None of them mention the fact that fake news is being spread by influencers who have been paid by politicians. Does anyone believe the influencers? I suppose their followers do, but are they merely the slacktivists that don’t actually vote as mentioned by Respondent 3….

Most viewed YouTube videos by 10 UK charities supporting international development

I’ve always been interested in the power of video as a form of storytelling, especially when supporting international development issues. So I decided to look at 10 UK charities to see what their most viewed video is. It’s hard to tell whether the videos shared organically or whether there was a substantial amount of advertising, so I have included the number of likes and comments below each video and also a very brief description of the content. Here they are in alphabetical order by charity – rather than listed by popularity.

ActionAid UK – a life transformed by ActionAid’s sponsorship programme | Child Sponsorship

Action Aid – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers – 2.47k – Video Published – 21/11/2012 – Views – 117,000 – Likes – 68 – Comments 2

Narrated by Purna Kala Shah, who has been a midwife in Nepal for 26 years. Purna came from a poor background and her family could not afford education. She was sponsored by ActionAid supporters from the age of 12 which has enabled her to follow her career dreams.

CARE International UK – Lendwithcare animated film

CARE International UK – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 1.4kVideo Published11/4/2016 Views57,000Likes8Comments 0

This animation is narrated by Joanna Lumley, a well-known UK actress. The animation starts with a depiction of a young girl, Hope, with a story about her loving to braid hair, but her family are poor and can’t afford education (seems familiar, see film above). We then jet across the world to Emma who gets taken to the hairdressers with her mum as a treat each month. However, one day in the salon she reads about the lendwithcare scheme and as a result Emma’s mum Barbara lends the money to Hope who sets up her salon. None of the countries are mentioned but the supposed “developing countries” are both rural compared to the urban western donor.

Christian Aid – Refugee Appeal: Helping the stranger

Christian Aid – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 5.09kVideo Published10/9/2015 Views600,000Likes18Comments 1

A short fundraising video for refugees in Northern Iraq. Mainly images of children eating and drinking with text overlaid quoting from the Bible – Matthew 25:35

Comic Relief – Mr Bean’s Wedding

Comic Relief – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 804kVideo Published16/3/2009 Views24,400,000Likes79Comments 334

I can’t stand Mr Bean so refused to watch this 🙂 But obviously a lot of people disagree with me.

Doctors Without Borders – How The Body Reacts To Tuberculosis

Doctors Without Borders – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 27.4kVideo Published20/3/2014 Views693,500Likes4,700Comments 2,130

A nicely designed infographic video giving information about tuberculosis.

Oxfam GB – Flashmob: Pregnant women breakdancing in London

Oxfam GB – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 18.9kVideo Published22/9/2008 Views1,800,000Likes4,000Comments 613

I’ve used this video in several lectures. Love it!

Save the Children UK – Most Shocking Second a Day Video

Save the Children UK – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 145kVideo Published5/3/2014 Views74,000,000Likes1,000,000Comments – turned off

I’ve also shown this video in a lot of lectures. I believe it is the most viewed UK charity video to date with 74 million views. I’m sure it has very high production costs and I suspect had a decent amount of advertising spend. However, it’s a great film.

Sightsavers – A message from students in Sierra Leone

Sightsavers – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 1.7kVideo Published25/5/2021 Views74,000Likes15Comments – 1

Narrated by children in Sierra Leone asking people to sign an open letter to demand world leaders to put children with disabilities at the heart of education plans.

Tearfund – What is Poverty?

Tearfund – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 5.5kVideo Published3/6/2015 Views494,500Likes4.4kComments – 261

This is my favourite of all the videos. I’m really surprised I’ve not seen this before. It made me go cold at the end. A brilliant video about some of the causes of poverty. I could write a whole blog post about this. Maybe I will one day 🙂

World Vision UK – Zeinab’s Story | Child Marriage

World Vision UK – most popular YouTube video

Subscribers 2.1kVideo Published14/8/2015 Views127,500Likes769Comments – 138

Narrated by Zeinab, a 14 year old child bride. I felt uncomfortable watching this video and personally think it is unethical to focus on a 14 year old in a charity campaign. See my blog post from December last year discussing the use of children in charity campaigns.

Using social media to report cases of gender based violence in rural Malawi

I recently met with Patricia Mtungila, who is the founder of Purple Innovation, an NGO supporting women and girls in Malawi. Their main objective is to advance women’s empowerment and reduce violence against women and girls through training and access to digital and traditional information on interventions on women and girls in Malawi.

One of their latest projects is to train girls in citizen journalism and how they can tell their stories, especially stories about gender-based violence (GBV) using their phones. I was interested to find out more about why social media is considered an effective way to report GBV. One of the main reasons is due to the ease and speed of publishing information in rural areas. In the training sessions, participants are given advice on how to take photos to document any acts of violence. But also, how to take these images to protect the identity of the person who has been abused.

These photos are then sent to Purple Innovation via either WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger so that they can pass the evidence on to a Gender Technical Working Group at the District Council level. The working group includes various stakeholders such as police, the victim support unit and gender officers who are working to combat gender-based violence. Due to the relationship that Purple Innovation has built with the working group, cases are taken very seriously and several cases that have been followed up by the police have gone to court resulting in convictions.

A recent example of someone who contacted Patricia and her team was a lady who was scolded with hot water by her husband. The child protection worker in that area took a photograph of the burn as evidence and sent the image with an attached voice note to Purple Innovation. Although the victim had reported the abuse to both the local police and the hospital, nothing had been done to arrest the perpetrator. Whereas now this evidence has been escalated to the relevant department within the council to investigate.

Protection against cyber bullying

Patricia does not just train girls how to report crimes of abuse using social media, she also offers advice on protection against cyber bullying. This involves warnings about posting images online that can be open to abuse and how to conduct yourself online. It is good that these trainings are available, but I wonder when the Government of Malawi, will (if ever) mainstream social media awareness and protection in schools.

Cyber bullying cards produced by Norfolk Constabulary and Broadland District Council – UK

I remember my children’s transition to high school a few years ago and social media protection / cyber bullying was high on the agenda.  Advice was given on privacy and safety i.e. posting personal information such as their own names and dates of birth or where they live, but also the kinds of information that might make them vulnerable to predators. Children are also warned about the potential risk to their own reputation and how posts can be screen shot or recorded and potentially shared for their whole life. How long will it be before this level of teaching is available to all children in Malawi via the school system? Why do we have to rely on NGOs like Purple Innovation to provide this education?

Cyber bullying cards produced by Norfolk Constabulary and Broadland District Council – UK

Database of Gender Based Violence

One last initiative by Purple Innovation is that they have developed an open access dashboard on their website of gender-based violence data which has been verified by the district council. The dashboard is accessible for researchers or reporters so they can write evidence based stories based on that data has been collected. It is often incredibly hard to find digitised data such as this in some countries, so this is an excellent tool that will help combat GBV in Malawi in the future!

Buhubalo: Using Instagram to support orphans in Uganda

Buhubalo Children’s Foundation – Instagram

I came across the Buhubalo Instagram account a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated at how they have achieved 243,000 followers in less than 18 months. To put that into context Save the Children UK have 134,000 and Oxfam UK have 84,000. For anyone studying media and development this is a great potential dissertation case study, I also expect an academic journal article will follow one day 🙂 However, for the purpose of this blog I have carried out a very quick content analysis to see if I could understand how they have achieved so many followers in such a short time. I did contact them for an interview, but did not manage to set one up.

The account started on July 21st 2021 with a random image of a group of children with no supporting text whatsoever. Many of the children have masks, but not all of them. There seems to be a couple of adults as well.

10 days later another image is added, this time of children and an adult holding a large piece of paper asking for support for food and masks. Again, no other context. Where are these children? Possibly you were aware from the title of the Instagram account – Buhubalo Children Foundation – but where is this foundation and what does it do?

In the third image we get to find out that the children are orphans – but we’re still not sure where from, until another similar post later that day where we find out the orphanage is in Buluguyi – a quick Google search would let you know this is in Eastern Uganda.

And on 1st September we have a picture of one child – Tom – looking up sadly at the camera, his t-shirt not quite covering his stomach with the text “Please donate any amount for Tom”. This is a fine example of the type of “poverty porn” images that have been widely criticised in both academia (see New Mediums, Better Messages? How Innovations in Translation, Engagement and Advocacy are Changing International Development for a recent publication) and the media.

But most of the criticisms of poverty porn often refer to images used in charity’s adverts produced by western organisations. These images are criticised for being inaccurate, over-simplifying the whole story, perpetuating a neo-colonial discourse, portraying individuals as pitiful victims and contributing to the white savior complex syndrome – amongst others. But these images are being posted by an orphanage in Uganda – is this acceptable? Are the images an accurate representation? Are they decontexualised? The first few certainly are. In Vossen’s (2018) analysis of Dutch, Flemish and British newspaper and NGO advertisments she coded images “as ‘pitiful’ when they depicted people were visibly suffering from malnutrition, illness or hardship: crying, bleeding or sick — but also of injured people in war and disaster areas”. I’m not sure if the image above would qualify as a ‘pitiful’ image or not?

Most of the images over the next few months concentrate on groups of children, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, with messages asking for contributions towards school fees, clothes, shoes, food etc. However, slowly the narrative changes as donations of clothes, shoes and teaching materials arrive and the images start to show these arrivals with supporting text thanking the donors. These posts all receive anywhere between 5 and 40 likes during this six month period, but on 30th January 2022 a reel is posted which receives 144 likes. 3 days later another reel with 281 likes and from then on every post is receiving 100+ likes and growing.

1st reel posted receives 100 likes

The reels are a mix of children eating, receiving donations and thanking people for those donations – the soundtracks are often faith based, but there is a Baby Shark track thrown in for good measure. The next step change is on 22nd April 2022 when a reel is posted of a boy dancing to a track called Calm Down by Rema which has 5,078 likes. Since then they have had several posts and reels which have had 100,000+ likes, with the most popular receiving 575,000 likes which shows a group of children receiving food. The music by the way, is a mixture. I told you this was a basic content analysis.

So why has this Instagram channel become so popular? Why have so many people donated to the orphanage? Is it because in the viewers eyes these photographs and videos are showing the raw reality of the children’s lives? As the channel matured there is a lot of context both visually and in the text. Donors can see where there money is being spent (or at least where some of it is being spent) and they receive thanks directly from the people they are supporting. But many of these likes – even the video with 575,000 – will merely be that – likes! We don’t know exactly what items have been donated and how much money has been donated. A report by the Charity Commission said

Trust in charities remains higher than in most other parts of society – a reflection of the value the public thinks that charities can bring and have brought throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. There is, however, a stubbornly persistent scepticism regarding how charities use their money and how they behave. This was true before the pandemic and is still true now.”

Charity Commission 2022

Does the Buhubalo Instagram page help alleviate this scepticism? Are these Instagram posts more accurate accounts of transparency and accountability? It’s hard to say. But there’s no denying that people “like” their posts and donations are being received. Buhubalo’s most popular reel has 575,000 and Save the Children’s has 119,000 (interestingly it’s Meghan Markle), but what’s also interesting is that their second most liked reel has only 11,300 likes. I am guessing from this that a lot of Instagram advertising spend was put behind the first Meghan Markle post and her next post a year later only had 5,959 likes. Or it could be the recent press coverage around her Netflix series???

So what can western NGOs learn from this account without upsetting academics and the media further? I’m not even going to start on responsible content creation, ethical storytelling and informed consent – but I’d love to know your thoughts….

Recruiting global ambassadors on LinkedIn for economic development

Rural Inclusion is a social enterprise driving economic development in underserved rural communities across the world, with a focus on designing digital education programmes for local partners to advance financial inclusion and empowerment for communities.

The idea for the company started when Jack Farren, the Co-Founder & CEO who had been working in UK insurance at the time, became fascinated about the possibilities of microinsurance for developing communities, and visited Mexico on a consultancy role to explore the possibility of how blockchain can help the advancement of microinsurance. He noticed that one of the key reasons for low uptake of insurance is due to awareness and education. This realisation led to Jack and co-founder Joseph Lakwago, carrying out research in Uganda about how people access financial products.

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And if you’re a business-owner, one comes to expect employee turnover. Understanding why employees leave, however, can help not only prevent high rates of turnover, but can allow you to leverage that information to recruit candidates to fill open positions in the future.

A twelve-week pilot of the Ostrii platform was implemented in partnership with Joy For Humanity Uganda and Lwengo District Business Council, in which local facilitators were trained to deliver financial education trainings amongst 1,412 individuals in Lwengo District, Uganda.

During their research it was evident that to circumvent low literacy levels, one way to educate people about the benefits of finance is through animations. So, they decided to develop a series of animations around financial literacy which have been translated into five different languages and are available to partners. These videos are uploaded to an App called Ostrii, which enables trainers to use in their training sessions. They now employ two full-time animators in Uganda.

Rural Inclusion Animation Showreel

Ostrii is available to partners for a subscription cost which is usually part of wider grant proposals – the end beneficiary doesn’t pay. Partners include NGOs, agribusiness and microfinance institutions who leverage their agent network to deliver educational content to local communities.

The animations are great, but obviously I was interested in how social media is used within their organisation and was fascinated how they scaled their business through an ambassador network via LinkedIn.

We started as self-funded and wondered how we can actually scale our vision as this is a global problem. So we reached out for volunteers to join us through a LinkedIn campaign. We didn’t really expect much from the campaign, but advertised for a two year voluntary position in six different countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Rwanda). We were looking for four individuals in each country that can be our local champions of inclusion, and help our growth through local market research, identifying potential partners, reviewing content in the local languages and helping with logistics on the ground, maybe attending a conference here and there. We would pay for the expenses for travel or any costs incurred, but it’s a voluntary role. We had 1000 applications for those positions and we brought ambassadors on board from many international development organisations!

Jack Farren

The LinkedIn campaign means that Rural Inclusion has instantly recruited ambassadors with credibility within the communities they are working in. Since their initial success they have also used LinkedIn to recruit four ambassadors in El Salvador where they have recently started a project.

I wanted to know why ambassadors would want to be involved when the positions are unpaid. Jack responded:

It’s a good question and we’ve worked a lot on providing value to our ambassadors through non-financial incentives.  We have seen some ambassadors go and new members join, and heading into 2023, we are now confident we have the right foundation to motivate our ambassadors and grow the network. Most of them have stayed the course, we brought new ones on, but there’s the element of we help them build their personal brand, giving them exposure and also help them with social media and networking opportunities. For example, let’s say you are an insurance underwriter in Uganda, but are now working in a group with a development consultant in Tanzania and a coffee expert in Malawi.”

Jack Farren

As part of this network there is also a great deal of knowledge sharing and this is also enabled via social media channels.

We’ve produced an internal learning platform and structure. For example, we hold quarterly meetings and invite people to make presentations to share knowledge on subjects such as grant writing, intellectual property or digital agriculture. We used to communicate through Trello but we have recently moved to WhatsApp communities. We have set up different subgroups and task forces for different projects

Jack Farren

Jack admits that they have not really managed to find time to invest in other social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok even though some NGOs are using them very successfully for fundraising from personal donors, but they do intend to develop their Facebook presence to build communities in the future.

I was really interested to hear about both the recruitment of ambassadors via LinkedIn and the knowledge sharing via Trello and WhatsApp communities. Let’s face it, social media is all about networking – not just pumping out one directional messages to your audience.