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Twitter as a Tool of Political Discourse in Nigeria: Dialogue, Self-Aggrandizement or Party Politicking?

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Twitter as a digital media platform offers great advantages in political communication in Nigeria. It has democratized the communication space and removed traditional gatekeepers through its inherent participatory nature. This and other advantages make Twitter the unique platform for gauging political conversation in Nigeria. This chapter will examine the political uses Twitter was put to from 2012 to 2014 in Nigeria. This chapter seeks to provide answers to these questions using largely the methods of ethnography, content analysis of tweets and systematic reviews of earlier blog posts that have dealt with this area.
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Introduction
Nigeria has a population of about 170 million people and an Internet
penetration of about 28 percent. However, radio (not social media) is the
most effective means of communication in Nigeria (Ojebode, 2008).
Nonetheless, the Nigerian social media spaces have inspired political activism
and/or conversations in the country.
There are about 11 million Nigerians on Facebook (CPAfrica, 2015) –
the largest in Sub-Saharan African. Nigeria is also the third largest African
country on Twitter (Augoye, 2012). Unlike Facebook, which provides ample
opportunities to share ‘update’ statues, pictures, web links, etc; Twitter is
more compact: tweets cannot exceed 140 characters. In the first ever attempt
to comprehensively map the use of Twitter in Africa; Portland
Communications analyzed over 11.5 million geo-located Tweets originating
on the continent during the last three months of 2011. How Africa
Tweets discovered that: “South Africa is the continent’s most active country
by volume of geo-located Tweets, with over twice as many Tweets (5,030,226
1
Twitter as a Tool of Political Discourse in Nigeria
Dialogue, Self Aggrandizement or Party Politicking?
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike
2 New Media and Society
during Q4 2011) as the next most active Kenya (2,476,800). Nigeria
(1,646,212), Egypt (1,214,062) and Morocco (745,620) make up the
remainder of the top five most active countries” (Portland.com, 2012).
Twitter as a digital media platform offers great advantages in political
communication in Nigeria. It has democratized the communication space
and removed traditional gatekeepers thorough its inherent participatory
nature. This and other advantages make twitter the unique platform for
gauging political conversation in Nigeria. This paper will examine the
political uses twitter was put to from 2012 to 2014 in Nigeria.
Twitter and Political Discourse in Nigeria
Twitter as a social medium has peculiar traits that define it. The 140 character
limit of Twitter conversations, already alluded to in the introduction, affects
its style and manner of engagement. This mode of engagement differs
essentially from that in Facebook which grants greater latitude and length to
its users than Twitter does.
There are outstanding factors that gives twitter an advantage over other
social media platforms – media updates, power of immediacy and cult of
celebrity. The architecture of Twitter makes it more suited for media updates
– just 140 characters and the news is out. The detailed press releases can be
shared later. Secondly “what makes Twitter unique from other social media
platforms is its immediacy. Users are able to bear witness to, report, and
comment on global events almost in real time” (Balam, 2017). Also Twitter
provides celebrities and public figures a convenient and easy platform to
update people (be it actual news or lifestyle news), promote their brands and
attract more followers. “This is another thing that makes twitter unique. It
has a huge number of celebrities and public figures using the platform. This
makes Twitter the social media for people to follow celebs” (Quora.com,
undated).
These three unique attributes of Twitter has been exploited for political
conversation in Nigeria. As at 2014, five Nigerian politicians enjoyed celebrity
statues on Twitter. They are: Reuben Abati, @abati1990 (then spokesman of
President Goodluck Jonathan); Nasir El-Rufai, @elrufai (then deputy
secretary of the opposition party); Femi Fani-Kayode, @realFFK
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 3
(controversial politician); Atiku Abubakar, @atiku (former vice president of
Nigeria) and Obiageli Ezekwesili, @obyezeks (former minister). These
individuals always made political news, having a great number of followers
and thus were ever more involved in Twitfights (Matuluko, 2014).
Dr Abati, for instance, revolutionalized presidential communication in Ni-
geria by breaking the news of the firing of government officials by President
Jonathan via his personal twitter handle @abati1990. “Nigerian President,
Dr Goodluck Jonathan has just sacked Alhaji Ahmed Ali Gulak, his Special
Adviser on Political Affairs. The announcement was relayed via the twitter
handle of the presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati” (Egbunike, 2014).
This was not the first time Dr Abati took advantage of the power of imme-
diacy which Twitter provided in breaking news from the presidency. Two
months earlier, Dr Abati had similarly announced the suspension of the Cen-
tral Bank Governor. Vincent Nwanma recounts how traditional journalist
reacted to Dr Abati’s tweet: “On February 20, 2014, Nigerians and the entire
world were rattled by a tweet by presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati,
who announced Sanusi’s suspension using the social media. For me and a
number of other journalists, the news and the medium through which it was
communicated were quite interesting… That development marked a signifi-
cant milestone in the application of social media in news dissemination, es-
pecially for a presidential spokesman. By choosing to tweet the suspension,
Abati, a journalist and former editorial board chairman of the Guardian news-
paper, literarily dumped the story in the public domain, leaving journalists to
struggle to catch up with everyone else, who also had access to the news. He
was being both the source and the one who broke the news. He not only
broke the news, he also updated it with details” (Nwanma, Unpublished
manuscript, pp 228-229). These instances reflect the power of immediacy
which twitter offers and which politicians, political commentators and en-
gaged Nigerian citizens are maximized to their advantage.
4 New Media and Society
Determinants for engaging in Political Conversation
Political conversation is an essential, indeed unavoidable, component of all
human interactions. The coming together of humans in a group necessarily
brings with it discussions, exchanges, points of view and contestations as to
what should be the optimal form of governance, who should govern, the
good society, values, mores, the good life, etc. The degree to which different
members of any given society participate in such conversations is a reflection
of a number of interacting variables and factors, some psychological, some
sociological, others economic, some technological whilst some others could
be structural. Research has shown that one of such important factors that
drive participation can be traced to the degree of social engagement of persons.
Social engagement here refers to willingness or inclination of a person to
participate in the activities in one’s community (Pattie and Johnston,
2009:262). A direct relationship has been suggested between the inclination
to social engagement and the proneness for political engagement and political
conversations.
Political engagement thrives when people have safe spaces where they
can talk, air their opinions without fear of clampdown. “For democracy to
function there has to be scope for: diversity of opinion; free expression of
those opinions; and resolutions of differences and conflicts” (Pattie and
Johnston, 2009:263). Talk, political conversation, is the normal avenue
through which individuals test their opinions before others, and gauge if
they are accepted or not. Citizens also make up their minds on political issues
or get confirmed in the agreement or disagreement on a prevailing issue.
However if the spaces where these conversations are held are disruptive,
intolerant or hostile, there is a tendency for holders of minority opinions to
keep silent – either out of shame or fear for the reaction of the majority. The
context and content of conversations are important in determining their
prevalence, quality and depth. When one is surrounded by people who share
same opinion – an echo chamber occurs, with opinions expressed being in
the main mutually reinforcing and thus barely conflictual. But where there
are dissenting voices – there are disagreements. Disagreements, when well
managed are essential for democracy to grow and indispensable for
development. “Democracy assumes open discussion with all opinions
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 5
expressed”. However, “wide divergences in opinions in environments
characterized by a growing intolerance of dissenting voices are also a threat
to democracy. So, one consequence of just such an open exchange of opinion
in such environments might be to discourage participation, hence undermining
democracy” (Pattie and Johnston, 2009:264).
Social media empowers citizen to engage in and to expand the space
and domains for political discourse. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and
Twitter allow digital citizens to carry on political discourse and exchanges
from far away places and from the relative safety of their private spaces.
Thus from the safety of private spaces, digital citizens are able to make
invasions and incursions into public domains with their messages. Twitter
which is our interest in this chapter allows such incursions enabling digital
citizens to contribute, contest, controvert, canvas and challenge views. The
very nature of Twitter, the very fact that each Tweet is limited to 140 or 280
characters imposes a certain discipline on content and goes a long way in
shaping the framing of messages. Two other features of Twitter – the retweet
facility and the follow button allow Tweeps to use the medium to grow their
popularity, win over followers and control and shape public opinion. These
two aspects of Twitter tend to encourage twitter users to constantly engage
in public conversations through their tweets.
A functionalist view of political engagement would posit that people
engage in conversations because the rewards of participating far outweigh
the losses or discomforts or inconveniences that derive from it. Rewards
here are used in their widest sense and not necessarily instrumental or material.
They could be an increased sense of self worth, an improvement in popularity,
an increase in following, the greater popularity of a political view or party
that one identifies with or a sense of gain over a political rival.
Statement of the Problem
Given the ever growing number of Tweeps (Twitter users) and by implication
the exponential increase in Tweets, especially in the periods leading up to
elections the question on the real motivation of those who use twitter for
political conversations becomes an important one to seek answers to. Why
do people use Twitter for political discourse? Do they use them to canvas
6 New Media and Society
opinions, to sell particular view points, to suppress dissent, to engage in
party political activism, for activism, awareness creation, balanced
information sharing or for self-aggrandizement/self projection? This self-
projection/self-aggrandizement theory of twitter engagement is based on one
key assumption – Twitter users are rational agents who engage in the use of
this social media for specific purposes. Thus, when their conduct and tweets
on Twitter appear to be irrational, these same tweets, this same display of ire
is driven by certain rationality. The more you tweet, the more you are known.
The more you are known, the greater is the likelihood that your followers
will grow. The more your followers grow the more your stature as an influencer
of public opinion on social media grows and the more your followership
rises. Twitter unwittingly incentivizes such behavior by showing against its
Tweep, the number of persons that follow him or her. How valid then is a
theory of self-aggrandizement in explaining the motivations for twitter use?
Does the motivation of self-aggrandizement operate alone or does it interact
with other factors to drive Twitter use? Even when we posit such a theory
with all its leaning towards Rational Choice theory of Twitter behavior, what
are the dominant themes and content that are used in the expression to this
desire to be known on Twitter? This chapter seeks to provide answers to
these questions using largely the methods of ethnography, content analysis
of tweets and systematic reviews of earlier blog posts that have dealt with
this area.
Research Questions
1. What are the dominant themes of political conversations in Twitter
Nigeria?
2. What are the dominant motives inferable from the content/context
analysis?
Methodology
Online ethnography was adopted for this study. This method was used because
virtual or online ethnography adapts ethnographic methods in order to
investigate communities and cultures created through computer-mediated
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 7
social interaction (Granello and Wheaton, 2004; Bowler, 2010; Skågeby, 2011
and Burbidge, 2014).
The Nigerian Twitter community is virtual networks of many tweeps.
They are as varied as the discussions that dominate the various communities.
For instance, there is literary twitter (tweeps who discuss literature); political
twitter (tweeps who discuss politics), football twitter (tweeps who discuss
football), etc. Each of these clusters has a distinct computer mediated culture
that defines their community. Thus, a sensitive content analysis and systematic
review – aspects of online ethnography – are particularly helpful in
understanding these communities as regards the prevailing attitudes,
behaviours and context.
However, one of the limitations of ethnography lies in coping with
reflexivity. That is, the biases or cultural prejudices of the researcher which
might influence the findings of a study (Mariam, 2011). To this end, we have
tried to mitigate the effect of reflexivity in this study by dual authorship.
Also since both authors conducted their observations individually but
simultaneously this has also reduced their subjective interpretation of political
discussion in Twitter Nigeria in the year under review. This disclosure is
consistent with ethical principle proposed by previous studies in this area
(Kozinets, 2002 and Markham, 2006). Both authors joined Twitter since 2009
and 2011 respectively. Thus they will put to use their ethnographic immersion
in Twitter, especially as observers of political discussions on this micro-
blogging medium.
The research data will be drawn from the authors’ blog posts in this
area between 2012 and 2014. These posts were published in the following
blogs: Vision, Voices and Views: https://visionvoiceandviews.com, Views on
Events, Life and Living!: http://noelihebuzor.tumblr.com, Feathers Project:
https://feathersproject.wordpress.com and YNaija: https://ynaija.com. The
sample size comprises of: one blog post from Events, Life and Living; three
blog posts from Visionvoiceandviews.com and four from Feathers Project.
In addition, two other blog posts which were first published in Feathers Project
but received more comments when republished in YNaija.com will also be
used in this analysis. Thus a total of 10 blog posts – which are products of
the ethnographic immersion of the authors, are the sample size of this study.
Table 1 shows a summary of the data sources used for this paper. Data
8 New Media and Society
generated from this corpus (blog posts) underwent a qualitative context
sensitive content analysis to provide themes that will make for a nuanced
understanding to the problem being investigated.
Table 1: Summary of the blog posts, medium published and the author
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
A first sketch of a
sociology of the Naija
self-acclaimed “social
activist” twitter
community
Signs of
Confused Activism
Discouraging Deserters
and Defectors
Reflections on Naija
[Nigeria] Twitter 2012
A Note of Warning to
the So-Called
Blogtivists
A Note of Warning to
the So-Called
Blogtivists”:
June 14,
2012
September
27, 2013
September
14, 2014
September
28, 2014
January 9,
2013
Noel A.
Ihebuzor
Noel A.
Ihebuzor
Noel A.
Ihebuzor
Noel A.
Ihebuzor
Nwachukwu
Egbunike
Views on
Events, Life
and Living!
Vision,
Voices and
Views
Vision,
Voices and
Views
Vision,
Voices and
Views
YNaija
Feathers
Project
http://noelihebuzor.
tumblr.com/post/2508
1055326/a-first-sketch-
of-a-sociology-of-the-
naija
https://visionvoiceand
views.com/2013/09/27/
signs-of-confused-
activism/
https://visionvoiceand
views.com/2013/10/14/
discouraging-deserters-
and-defectors/
https://visionvoiceand
views.com/2014/04/28/
reflections-on-naija-
twitter-2012/
https://ynaija.com/
opinion-a-note-of-
warning-to-the-so-called-
blog-activists/
https://feathersproject.
wordpress.com/2013/01/
08/the-nigerian-
blogotivist-and-the-
danger-of-immediacy/
S/No Title of Post Date
published Author Blog Link
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 9
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
Nwachukwu Egbunike
Replies Mark Amaza
The Narratives of
Nigeria’s Politico-
Twitterati
Is the Nigerian
Blogosphere a Change
Vessel or an
Echo Chamber?
Virtues 4.0 for Web 2.0?
Innocent or
Virulent Netizens?
January 13,
2013
October 20,
2013
January 17,
2014
April 29,
2014
May 1,
2014
Nwachukwu
Egbunike
Nwachukwu
Egbunike
Nwachukwu
Egbunike
Nwachukwu
Egbunike
Nwachukwu
YNaija
Feathers
Project
Feathers
Project
Feathers
Project
Feathers
Project
https://ynaija.com/
blogotivists-and-matters-
arising-nwachukwu-
egbunike-replies-mark-
amaza/
ttps://feathersproject.
wordpress.com/2013/10/
20/the-narratives-of-
nigerias-politico-
twitterati/
ss.com/2014/01/17/is-the-
nigerian-blogosphere-a-
change-vessel-or-an-
echo-chamber/
https://feathersproject.
wordpress.com/2014/04/
29/virtues-4-0-for-web-2-
0/
https://feathersproject.
wordpress.com/2014/05/
01/innocent-or-virulent-
netizens/
S/No Title of Post Date
Published Author Blog Link
Findings
The qualitative content analysis yielded eight themes: using twitter for
political activism, twitter used for party political activism - bitter political
tweet fights, twitter political party activist community, Nigerian twitter users,
overlords, the influence of social media in Nigeria, and the characteristics of
political discussions on twitter. Each of these themes will be explored below.
The themes emerged from the blog posts through a deductive approach (de
Vreese, 2005).
10 New Media and Society
Using Twitter for Political activism
A large portion of tweets examined focused on politics, This was to be
expected as data gathering was one in the years and months leading up to the
2015 elections. The approach was to canvas directly for a political party
without any direct appeals to logic or to evidence. One ths comes across
tweets with messages such as “Party X is a party of rogues and knaves”,
Party Y is a party of retards and ethnic bigots”. Name calling, mocking,
ridiculing, taunting, libeling, demonizing and the more outrageous such tweets
are, the greater their retweets! An effort was made by the person emitting
such tweets to appear as independent and operating on the basis of sound
evidence. However, on closer examination such evidence is found to be
without substance and is the result of deliberate twists of partial facts to
malign others. But the outputs of such an approach sadly are lapped up by
his/her followers.
Incidentally, a distinction has been made between fake and true political
activism on Twitter Nigeria in the years under review (2013-2014). Thus,
according to Ihebuzor, fake activism results “from situations where unbridled
zeal and exuberance have outrun sense, self-restraint, competence and
capacity” (Ihebuzor, September 27, 2013). He also highlighted 20 signs of
fake activism which he observed on Twitter Nigeria: the display of selective
moral outrage, the abandonment of reason, the embrace of illogicality and
the descent to inconsistency, the rejoicing over any government misfortune,
refusing to see the very obvious and denying or rejecting clear evidences of
government successes. Others includes: trivializing landmark events and
changes brought about by government policies, magnifying government
mistakes out of proportion, maintaining total silence on opposition gaffes,
defending glaring flaws in persons in the opposition, enforcing total silence
on the crimes of members of the opposition, demonizing the government but
beatifying anyone opposed to it. Other methods applied by this group include,
blanking out the unsavory pasts of newly turned “progressives”, revising
and photo-shopping the past to fit the present, purveying inaccuracies and
merchandising distortions. Such fake activists are salespersons and champions
of exaggerations. One gets the impression that these persons are adepts at
leaping before looking; tweeting before thinking, commenting on things
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 11
without any full understanding of them, consistently condemning government
and commending the opposition, and engaging in non-evidence/non-fact
based utterances” (Ihebuzor, September 27, 2013). Fake activism runs contrary
to true activism which advocates “balanced, evidence based on socially
constructive engagement” (Ihebuzor, September 27, 2013).
A close reading of such tweets by fake activists betrays their self seeking
agendas. They are to make the tweep both notorious and popular and this
raise his/her status as to that of an influencer, who could then be hired to
tweet for a fee. The purpose and intentions of these fake activists are simply
driven by political partisanship. “The major ambition of this “social activist
community” is to steer and dominate public opinion to the point of suffocat-
ing and drowning any dissenting voices. In the current dispensation, this
ultimate end game is to unseat the PDP in 2015. Marketing this agenda and
drawing supporters to it has been greatly facilitated by the seeming inability
of the Jonathan administration to deal in a decisive way with critical prob-
lems of governance in this country, especially corruption, insecurity and
decline in our social services provision sector. In the short and medium terms,
the objectives are to magnify these failings of the GEJ administration, in-
crease its unpopularity, undervalue and rubbish any achievements it may
lay claims to. Regime change through the ballot is the ultimate goal. The
means to this end include direct insults to the presidency and the person of
the president, distortion of events to inculpate the president, deliberate false-
hoods, exaggerations, ridicule, biased reporting and deliberately outrageous
remarks meant to inflame and confuse. Members of this group are socialized
into behaviours that produce all of these in the tweets. This socialization is
achieved through a subtle blend of social pressure and incentives made pos-
sible by the structure of this “activist” community” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012).
Twitter used for party political activism - bitter political tweet fights
In his blog post that summarised the political climate of Twitter Nigeria in
2012, Ihebuzor (September 28, 2014) noted that passion over ruled reason:
“I found this in my archive of unpublished stuff and I am sharing them as
12 New Media and Society
written then! These were my reflections on Naija at the end of December,
2012. Those were bad days for Twitter in Nigeria. The streets were mean and
brutal.” Emotions ran high and this stifled discourse. Egbunike (September
20, 2013) had also made similar observations: “The streets of Nigeria’s Twitter
are hot and harsh these days. The clash of the politico-twitterati on each side
of the divide – opposition and the establishment – has been characterized
with vile tweet-blood.”
These bitter tweet fights by the gladiators was not just limited to
differences in political choices and/or support. “Twitter abounds in twitfights
– fights between foes as well fights between former friends who have now
parted ways for one reason or the other. When fights are between former
friends who now find themselves on different sides of the political divide,
the clashes tend to be very mean and vicious. The acrimony betrays the
persisting bitterness and hurt that one party or both feel over the parting of
ways” (Ihebuzor, October 14, 2013). However, these tweet fights are often
based on a deep seated political animosity which the next theme will explore.
Twitter political party activist community
The Nigerian twitter political party activist community is defined as “a
community of persons who use Twitter mostly to actively promote the cause
of a particular party” (Ihebuzor, October 14, 2013). This group is different
from the “political activists on Twitter” who try to maintain objectivity while
tweeting about politics and governance.
The political party activist community is closely knitted. Thus, the
“parting of ways or rethinking of positions by the other party are often very
strongly resisted to the point where the person who decamps or changes his/
her view is often treated as a deserter, a defector and a sell-out” (Ihebuzor,
October 14, 2013). The bad blood that ensures between once close friends,
after one of them have decamped to another party is usually frightening.
“Such changes are viewed as some form of social “apostasy”. And apostasy
is perceived as a grievous sin, a perception that is most accentuated in
communities with tendencies to self-ascribed moral righteousness.
“Apostates” must be condemned to “social” disgrace and demise. Apostates
must be treated as social lepers. They are to be ridiculed and subjected to all
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 13
forms of social pressures. And all of this because apostates are a danger to
the group they left. They possess a Snowden-type risk potential and precisely
because of this, their credibility must be seriously eroded and progressively
destroyed” (Ihebuzor, October 14, 2013).
The aim is not only to punish the defector but also to serve as a deterrent
to anyone dares sell-out on the party. “The attack on the defector is an eye
opener and dampener to those within the circle who may have been
contemplating either changing camps or moving to more neutral positions.
The message to such persons is clear. This is what you are likely going to get
should you ever desert us” (Ihebuzor, October 14, 2013). Therefore old tweets
of the “apostate” are unearthed by former friends “and hurled in his/her face
just to show how inconsistent and unreliable he/she is” (Ihebuzor, October
14, 2013). This ‘justifies’ the attack but also ‘confirms’ that the defector had
only jumped ship for pecuniary reasons.
Nonetheless the behaviour of the defector in his/her new party most
times, only aggravates the attack on them. This is because “like most fresh
converts to new faiths and belief systems, these social apostates consistently
betray excessive zeal typical of neophytes as they try to settle in to their new
camp. Most exhibit a tendency to dwell on and detail the evils of the groups
they have left, a tendency that irks that group and one which then further
exacerbates the already seething acrimony between the deserter and his/her
former associates” (Ihebuzor, October 14, 2013). Deserters are thus not always
innocent of the hate they endure.
On the other hand, the party that receives the “apostate” always tends to
canonize the new comer. Thus, “the new ‘decampee’ is presented as someone
who has seen the truth, who has suddenly become aware of the folly and evil
in his/her previous ways, one who has seen the sinfulness and greed of former
associates and as one who now regrets ever associating with such evil people
in such an evil party. The devil, who is a convenient scapegoat, takes a good
bashing in this new dance of the converted and the redeemed” (Ihebuzor,
October 14, 2013). The salvation of the sinner, turned saint is now completed.
14 New Media and Society
Twitter and Tweets as the domain for becoming key influencers or
Overlords
This is a different group of Twitter actors who betray the following traits –
they have a large followership, they emit a large number of tweets per day,
they want their tweets to be agenda setting and points of view determining –
in other words, they want to be influencers and controllers of opinion. Twitter
overlords dominate “the Naija Twitter space by the sheer volume of their
tweets and see themselves as social activists. It sees itself as the social
conscience of our nation and has arrogated to itself the moral high ground
of socio-political rectitude and probity” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012).
Being a Twitter overlord usually carries a negative connotation: “…an
ever increasing number of blogotivists command large constituencies of
followers and now see themselves as powerful persons whose voices must
not only be heard but also feared. Having drunk from the bowl of power,
some have morphed into agenda setters, news framers, experts on all matters,
and final social arbiters whose views, judgments and solutions must always
prevail” (Egbunike, January 9, 2013).
The overlords thrive on the deceptively flat structure of Twitter Nigeria.
The overlord is the leader while his followers who are heavily dependent on
him or her are called ‘voltrons’. “There is an overall leader and below him/
her, another level of leaders. These second level leaders are in charge of
their specific “cells” and do their best to maintain a supportive and
“mentoring” relationship with members with the aim of cleverly creating a
dependence syndrome by these members. Below this second leadership level,
and within these cells, there is the broad followership. In this broad
followership, you will find an assorted array of persons – male and female,
who function more or less as enforcers and hit men and women” (Ihebuzor,
June 14, 2012).
Consequently, the overlord assumes that he is the leader and
spokesperson of Nigerian youths. Egbunike notes that:
“many blogotivists have crowned themselves emperors/empresses of the
youths! It might be pertinent to ask if this also includes the majority who are
in the country side. It is simplistic to generalise ‘youths’ as those in the city,
who may lack uninterrupted power but are nonetheless literate and tech-
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 15
savvy. What about those who cannot go to school and are doomed to a life in
subsistence farming or fishing? …These are the people blogotivists must seek
to find and connect to if we are to be spared the pains of irrelevance and self-
promotional posturing” (Egbunike, January 9, 2013).
However, this position was countered by Mark Amaze in a rejoinder to
Egbunike’s essay: “As to the allegation that bloggers cannot be seen to be
speaking for all young Nigerians when they do not interact with, in the writer’s
words, “the almajiri in Sokoto, the uneducated run-of-the-mill Aba or Onitsha
guy, the average lady cooking amala and gbegiri in her mother’s roadside
buka”, I disagree that unless they are able to interact with them, they cannot
be said to be speaking for same youths... The idea of blogging is not to present
ideas that are already popular and accepted, but propose ideas which shall be
supported for the betterment of everyone. Hence, bloggers, like all writers
and speakers, have their audiences and they direct their arguments at those
audiences. It does not in any way make their ideas less credible. One does
not also need to interact with everyone to be able to know what the problems
are; our major problems to everyone. The solution one proffers is then a
matter of perspective” (Amaze, 2013). But Javeh (who commented on
Egbunike’s post) stated that: “As I was reading it, it was only Omojuwa I
could think of that the writer is referring to. He feels he is the emperor of
youths…” (Egbunike, January 9, 2013).
This super leadership/dependent followership explains the messiah
complex that characterizes Nigerian Twitter overlords. “Unless we do such a
reality check, most of us run the risk of developing a Messiah Complex that
deifies ignorance and naivety…” (Egbunike, January 9, 2013). Thus the
overlord has an illusion of grandeur that comes from the number of followers
he/she commands. Ikenna commenting on Egbunike’s post asserts that: “I
agree with the author that amassing a number of followers on twitter leads to
the illusion (or delusion) that on can be a real agent of change in 140
characters. And the illusion is very strong; so strong that it leads to the
arrogance that is exhibited day by day by our dear Twitter activists” (Egbunike,
January 9, 2013). This stance was also validated by Udoka Emeribe, in a
comment to Amaze’s rejoinder: “what happens on Twitter is a total shame.
Some twitter ‘overloads’ (sic) have arrogated to themselves sole custodians
of knowledge and everything right and progressive. They will sneer and call
16 New Media and Society
you all manner of names if you held any opinion contrary to theirs on national
issues, and will only engage you if you reinforced all of their views without
question. What a shameful irony!” (Amaze, 2013).
Nigerian Twitter Users
As at the time when this ethnographic study was made, 2012 and 2014,
Nigerian Twitter users were an exclusively elitist public. “The fact remains
that in this country, digital natives are still an exclusively elitist public;
compared to the majority of other publics who lack internet access”(Egbunike,
January 9, 2013). The reason for this digital divide was obviously due to
“the urban skew of internet access and the disadvantage of youths in rural
and remote settings” (Egbunike, January 13, 2013).
This group of Twitter users who discussed politics was also made of the
good, the bad and the ugly. “The internet is a neutral tool but the users are
not: they might be fair and balanced or obnoxiously biased. And the Nigerian
blogosphere is no exception to this rule. Consequently, it is given that there
exists – in some cases – a Janus-like existence between online and offline
media” (Egbunike, January 17, 2014). Thus it is important to re-emphasize
this observation that: “the Nigerian blogosphere is neither a romantic avenue
for idealistic youths who are desirous for change nor is it street brimming
full with idle “children of anger”. The reality is that there are good, bad and
ugly netizens. On Nigeria’s Twittvilla, for instance, this perception is necessary
to unpack tweets from some ‘overlord’ twitterati. In order words, one finds
both brilliant and not so brilliant intelligence. Also there is present in some
cases, those who try to pass off as what they are not” (Egbunike, January 17,
2014). It is within this context that we will look at the next two themes,
which are the influence of social media and characteristics of discussions on
Twitter.
The influence of social media in Nigeria
Social media has both positive and negative influence on Nigerian politics.
One the positive influence has been that is an alternative media that has
eliminated the influence of gate keepers. “The conversation among scholars
and enthusiasts has morphed from if social media has changed the landscape
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 17
to how this change will be perpetuated. As such the crushing of gatekeepers,
the inherent freedom and participatory nature of social media platforms is no
longer novel. Nigeria currently occupies an enviable position on the
blogosphere of the continent, with Nigerians ranking the top three tweeters
in Africa” (Egbunike, May 1, 2014). This explains also the ability of Nigerian
twitter users to keep tab on governance as manifested in this observation:
“In the Nigerian context, recent events provide examples for a casual
examination of the blogosphere and its netizens. For instance, the BMW
malfeasance of the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah was a positive for
investigative journalism as carried out by an online news medium. The
Nigerian Season of Letters also saw the rising influence of social media as
an alternative source of news. That the letter of Chief Obasanjo to President
Jonathan was leaked to an online news portal illustrates two major
assumptions – the new media has gained popular validity, that virtual news
eliminates gatekeepers and jumps into the traditional media” (Egbunike,
January 17, 2014).
However, there are two disadvantages of this social media influence on
political conversations in Nigeria. The first is the danger of immediacy: “…the
thinking that the change we all hope for will come like a flash of lighting. Or
even worse, with the same immediacy of the social media. It not as simple as
think, touch, post and problem solved!” (Egbunike, January 13, 2013). The
other negative factor was that Twitter Nigeria became an echo chamber of
political discussions. Egbunike explains: “the righteous anger of netizens
alone will not change anything. Rather it deepens the illusion of ‘change’ of
an echo chamber” (Egbunike, January 17, 2014). In other words, since most
twitter users share the same views with others, there is this tendency when
discussing politics that they will also hold similar views. Thus an echo
chamber is created because it gives the feeling that every other person holds
the same view and therefore that progress is being made.
The characteristics of political discussions on twitter
We identified four factors that characterized political discussions on twitter:
rumours, insults, rage driven communication, and sweeping generalizations,
twisting evidences and single stories.
18 New Media and Society
Rumours
Twitter political discussions thrived on rumours and sometimes outright lies.
Thus, the fact that someone tweeted a political news, information and/or
opinion, “does not automatically translate into the veracity or credibility of
news peddled” (Egbunike, January 17, 2014). This example manifests the
type and hype of rumours in the years under review. “A casual observation of
the handles of some opposition overlords shows that they thrive on rumours.
It looks as though they patiently wait for any gaffe from government officials
and then precipitate a twitter storm. For instance take the “news” on the 53
gold plated iPhones that were ordered for Nigeria’s independence celebrations
or that of the president dropping the title of “Commander-in-Chief” for non-
military functions. In both cases the opposition overlords ranted and cursed.
Sadly they neither substantiated the rumours” (for the 53 gold plated iPhones)
nor read beyond the headlines” (Egbunike, October 20, 2013). The opposition
party then was the All Progressive Party (APC) while the Peoples Democratic
Party (PDP) was the ruling party.
Sadly was the inability of the then ruling party to disapprove the rumours
through effective communication: “The establishment media team on twitter
is a complete disaster. For instance: in the alleged iPhones ruse, there was
no factual rebuttal from the establishment overlords. What we got were
sentimental tweets that blamed the opposition. It took an independent political
tweep to investigate and refute the allegation… Rumours thrive in the absence
of factual information” (Egbunike, October 20, 2013). However rumours
mongering was not done by overlords alone. Rather most twitter users were
either complicit, naive or both. “The itchy fingers associated with being the
first to know and that inordinate passion to claim bragging rights of being
the first to tweet. Before you tweet, take a cold chill, breath and chill again:
there’s no award with being the first to tweet fallacy” (Egbunike, April 29,
2014).
Insults
Ad hominem attacks on people characterized political conversations in Twitter
Nigeria in the years under review. “Most of the tweets are one liner swipes
and insults. Name calling is rampant words like – “goons, thugs, thieves”
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 19
occur with deadening repetitiveness and frequency” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012).
Many times, spiting others is seen as an essential part of freedom of speech:
“What is nauseating is the lack of originality and the delusion that freedom
of speech equates to freedom to spite” (Egbunike, October 20, 2013). Ihebuzor
explains the strategy of insults on Twitter Nigeria: “Leading the attack are
“hackers” – (persons who savagely hack at others with the intention to insult,
ridicule, belittle, smear, slur etc) male and female – unleashing an un-ending
chain of verbal violence, directed not just at the victim but also to his/her
family” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012). The gatekeepers of traditional media were
overthrown with social media’s participatory nature. However this freedom
came under severe strain due to the: “growing tendency to assume that since
the talking space is free from gatekeepers, therefore one is also ‘free’ to
malign or destroy the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ names of others” (Egbunike, April 29,
2014).
Rage driven communication
In Twitter Nigeria, passions run high; emotions are usually brought to play
when political issues are being discussed. One was forced to ask the following
question: “Are we really having a conversation? I don’t think so. We have
loads of noise and sentimental effusions of irrationality. The goal of a
conversation – not argument – is that each party listens and takes turns. It
takes openness to the truth and great deal of maturity to hear out those who
have dissenting views” (Egbunike, January 9, 2013). But some twitter users
over estimated their ability to rage to be equally proportionate to their ability
to insult. “Unfortunately, their “courage” to dispense copious bile is not
and must not be mistaken for either true courage or patriotism. It is also not
a virtue. It is something else. To persist in seeing it as a virtue is self-deceit”
(Egbunike, October 20, 2013). In this environment of rage and sentimental
emotions, “reason is buried. Senseless fury and noise are let loose on the
Twitter space. And the storm attack is not fortuitous – it is triggered by an
innocent tweet say by @CAPO_ogbaegbe to all who follow him “check out
my TL for my rants” or by another capo to his brigade – “check out
@CAPO_ogbaegbe as he takes on a goon” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012).
20 New Media and Society
Sweeping generalizations, twisting evidences and single stories
Making sweeping generalization without recourse to concrete facts was one
of the factors that characterized political conversations in Twitter Nigeria
between 2012 and 2014. “I too know syndrome – that seems to be the national
lure of many twitterati! It is essential that in the current volatile clime, tweeps
should realise that: It is imprudent to jump into every conversation or to
make generalising assertions that are simply indefensible” (Egbunike, April
29, 2014). Besides this was an ample lack of objectivity in political
discussions. “A growing number of these tweeple are beginning to have their
own blogs but apart from a minuscule of well-argued articles, content and
style are one dimensional, single simple story in orientation, and usually
marred by bias, deliberate deceptive spins and distortions. Whatever facts
are in them are badly mangled by subjectivity and poorly concealed political
motives” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012).
However, the most disrupting issue was the ability of some overlords
and twitter users to reduce complex issues to single stories. This means that
the intention to maintain a certain preconceived agenda that suits their
narrative. And in order to maintain that political narrative, stories and events
are ridiculed. Ihebuzor explains: “Complex situations are reduced to simple
statements and blame is shared very liberally, with finger pointing always
pointing to the other person. Any event that embarrasses government is
celebrated and orchestrated to the point that some tweeple were triumphant
at the yellow card incident in South Africa, the failed rescue mission where
two hostages died, killed by the captors. A screaming tweet – something like
- “British Army invades Nigerian territory” suddenly jarred the twitter space
as one tweep gave expression to the sensationalism which is also a feature of
the behaviour of this group. NOI failed bid for the World Bank presidency
was celebrated in style and with rejoicing. There is a restructuring in a federal
ministry and the first reaction is to gloat because of a feeling that the Personal
Assistant to the Minister in the affected ministry is going to lose his job! The
Bashorun MKO recognition effort was roundly rubbished as the “clueless”
act of a “clueless” and “shoe-less” president, the Dana crash was caused by
presidential incompetence, the president tears at the sight of the crash were
fake, the cassava bread is a no brainer, GEJ is trying to undo UNILAG by
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 21
renaming it MAUL because he failed to get admitted there…the list is endless
– a sad commentary on how far the slide in mental processing has gone in
certain sections of the populace of this country” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012).
Discussion of Findings
The findings of this chapter shall be discussed based on the two research
questions and reviewed literature. The first research question focused on
finding the dominant themes of political conversations in Twitter Nigeria.
Our findings revealed that between 2012 and 2014, seven themes dominated
political discussions on Twitter. They are as follows: using twitter for political
activism, twitter was used for political party activism and consequently bitter
political tweet fights and the twitter political party activist community emerged
as themes. Others were: twitter influencers and overlords, the Nigerian twitter
user, the influence of social media in Nigeria and the characteristics of political
discussions in on twitter.
The findings revealed the peculiarities of political activism, political
party activism and the twitter political party activist community. Political
activism on twitter within the years under review was fake activism, that is,
partisan activism masked as non-partisan activity. Thus the fake activists
displayed selective moral outrage, abandoned reason, were illogical,
inconsistent and denied any evidence of government success (Ihebuzor,
September 27, 2013). Thus it was not surprising that the intention of the fake
activist was simply to create an unsavory public opinion which is necessary
for a “regime change through the ballot box” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012).
Political party activism was combative and “characterized with vile tweet-
blood” (Egbunike, September 20, 2013). This binary and bitter division
between the ruling party and opposition party twiter activists was usually
“mean and vicious” (Ihebuzor, October 14, 2013). This acrimony becomes
more intense when a former friend (from either camp) crosses over to another
party. The Nigerian twitter political party activist community goes at great
length to resist any person who changes views or decamps to another party
because “such changes are viewed as some form of social ‘apostasy’”
(Ihebuzor, October 14, 2013). This explains why the tweet fight between
such deserter and his former friends are vicious. At the same time, the reaction
22 New Media and Society
from the party that welcomes the political twitter ‘apostate’ also goes to the
opposite extreme. The apostate is treated by his/her new party as “someone
who has seen the truth” after a Damascus experience has renounced “the
folly and evil in his/her previous ways” and was courageous to seek
redemption in his/her new party (Ihebuzor, October 14, 2013). Yet these three
themes complements and explains each other because the twitter activist
though partisan masquerades as non-partisan. Yet when tweet fights break
out, it is easy to understand that it is a battle between the two dominant
political party factions (PDP or APC), who either fight through proxies
(political activists) or political party faithful.
Another interesting theme is the parasitic relationship between key
political twitter influencers (overlords) and the ordinary Nigerian twitter user
(voltrons). Both overlords and their voltrons constitute an exclusive “elitist
public; compared to the majority of other publics who lack internet access”
(Egbunike, January 9, 2013). The overlords influence depends on the sheer
volume of tweets, the retweets/mentions he/she receives and the
corresponding number of followers. Thus overlords were able to arrogate to
self “the high moral ground of socio-political rectitude and probity” (Ihebuzor,
June 14, 2012) whose “views, judgments and solutions must always prevail
(Egbunike, January 13, 2013). This would not have been possible without
the implicit and naïve agreement of twitter voltrons – the “good, bad and
ugly” (Egbunike, January 17, 2014). The ascendancy of overlords and the
control “dependency syndrome” they have on voltrons thrives on a deceptively
flat structure consisting of various layers of persons “who function more or
less as enforcers” (Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012). With this unequal relationship,
the overlord is defied and thus becomes “news framers, experts in all matters,
and the final social arbiters” (Egbunike, January 9, 2013).
But the arrogance of overlords is not entirely unfounded. Social media
has been particularly influential in Nigerian politics. Twitter especially has
been the platform of choice for politicians to network (Matuluko, 2014).
Besides as noted earlier, Twitter became the platform of disseminating
government news due to peculiar architecture that promotes giving updates
and power of immediacy (Egbunike, 2014, Nwanma, unpublished
manuscript). However, this power of immediacy was misconstrued between
2012 and 2014 in Twitter Nigeria by some overlords to mean that changes in
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 23
Nigeria will also come about “with the same immediacy of the social media”
(Egbunike, January 13, 2013). This of course led to another problem, a creation
of an echo chamber that denies reality and propagates same opinions by
people of similar political leanings.
On the other hand, the forgoing conversations explain the last theme
identified in this study. With selective activism, bitter and binary political
confrontations, the arrogance of overlords and their control on their voltrons,
the punishable apostasy of moving from one party to another; it is only natural
the prevalent characteristics of political discussions in Twitter Nigeria.
Between 2012 and 2014, Twitter Nigeria was a hub of rumours and outright
lies. Insults were churned out at the least provocation thus making political
communications simply impossible or at best characterized by anger. This
intolerance of dissenting voices in Nigeria Twitter was a “threat to democracy”
since it discouraged political participation (Pattie and Johnson, 2009:264).
These were the major themes that emerged from the content analysis.
We will now attempt to answer research question two by discussing the
dominant motives inferable from the content/context analysis of the political
blog posts that emerged from our ethnographic immersion in Twitter Nigeria.
Political conversations thrive when people have safe spaces to talk, share
opinions, etc (Weber, 2013). Social media has a unique advantage of offering
people a platform to share their political views. Twitter is the most influential
platform of political conversations in Nigeria (Portland.com, 2012).
Nonetheless, the experience in Nigeria between 2012 and 2014 was that
Nigerian political twitter became an avenue for disinformation,
misinformation, self promotion, tweet fights and very little for political
education. Twitter morphed from being a tool of political discourse in Nigeria
to one that stifled dialogue and promoted self aggrandizement and/or party
politicking.
Party political activism
The first motive inferable from themes that emerged from our analysis showed
that party politics was the main stay of most twitter actors in Nigeria from
2012 to 2014. The conversation by these party political activists on Twitter
Nigeria was sectarian, stifled all contrary opinion and usually led to bitter
24 New Media and Society
twitfights. For instance, former Aviation Minister was accused of acquiring
two vehicles for personal use at outrageous cost to the public treasury
(SaharaReporters, 2013). Rather than decry the act, give a benefit of doubt
until investigations were completed, the then opposition (APC) went amok
on Twitter and insulted anyone who had a contrary opinion on an allegation
that has not yet been substantiated. “The reprehensible acquisition of two
armoured BMW cars for the personal use of the Minister of Aviation by a
cash-strapped aviation agency, their focus is usually from an “all or none”
angle. Rather than decry the scandalous corrupt act and propose an action
plan, our opposition overlords went atop with rage. But this anger was
basically narcissist and mired with denigrating tweets. And any tweep that
dared to think outside the boundaries as defined by them was either a ‘closet’
PDP voltron or a ‘confirmed’ government apologist. [¸0§0Ë0ü0
Ô0ü0] @JenniePete: Twitter Nigeria is a cult. Its either you belong and agree
with them or you’re an apologist/loyalist. [10:32 PM - 17 Oct 2013]”
(Egbunike, October 20, 2013). But the then ruling party (PDP) twitter activists
also contributed to this sectarian narrative on twitter in the years under review
due to their incompetence: “The establishment overlords suffer a malignant
refutation narrative. Many of them are only on twitter to debunk the actions
– imagined and real – of the opposition. Or how else can one explain that the
official establishment tweep – the adviser on #twitterthings – spends his
time tweeting parables. And when he is not preaching, he perpetually engages
the numero uno accidental public servant in a tweet-fight. Although the
president is active on Facebook but it’s inexcusable that his twitter
handle @JGoodluckTweets has been dormant since May 2011…
[ST.] @seyitaylor: GEJ is not the worst president in Nigerian history. He
might, however, be the one with the worst media team in history.” [9:05 PM
- 18 Oct 2013] (Egbunike, October 20, 2013). Truth died on Twitter.
Selective political activism
Political activism in Twitter Nigeria is not altruistic but selective. Fake
activism was the order of the day. Twitter was used to pursue partisan political
ideologies by concealed messaging with the singular intention to deceive
and confuse the gullible. Twitter Nigeria became a platform activism that
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 25
thrived on amnesia, selective acceptance or rejection of evidence depending
on which side the activist belongs to. Consequently, “...purveying inaccuracies
and merchandising distortions, becoming salespersons and champions of
exaggerations (Ihebuzor, September 27, 2013) became the norm. The genuine
social activists who sought objectivity and balance were outnumbered by
selective political activists. These fake political activists were masters of
deception, hiding their real intention behind the veil of love for country.
Sadly, their actions belied their public posturing since they only hyped
provocative contents that suited their political agenda. “The major ambition
of this “social activist community” is to steer and dominate public opinion
to the point of suffocating and drowning any dissenting voices… This
socialization is achieved through a subtle blend of social pressure and
incentives made possible by the structure of this “activist” community”
(Ihebuzor, June 14, 2012). The requiem for political objectivity, fairness and
balance was conducted in Twitter Nigeria between 2012 and 2014.
Overlords
The Nigeria twitter overlord had a singular purpose: self promotion for self
aggrandizement. The overlord’s discourse and interactions were typified by
arrogance, messiah complex and/or selective activism. This was achieved
by a systematic culture that sought control not communication, non-respectful
and building a cult of self. The overlord’s volume of tweets and corresponding
retweets; mentions and/or direct messages to an army of followers granted
him/her the rights to pontificate on all issues. Many times, the overlord sees
him/herself as the emperor of Nigerian youths, divinely anointed to speak
for them or about them. “The illusion (or delusion) that one can be a real
agent of change in 140 characters. And the illusion is very strong; so strong
that” (Ikenna in Egbunike, January 9, 2013) anyone who dares questions
their authority will be “called all manner of names” (Udoka Emeribe in
Amaze, 2013).
Hostile political discourse
Political discourse was simply sectarian, divisive and bitter, all of which
blocked effective communication. One sided information, sensationalism,
26 New Media and Society
malice driven allegations and slurs were frequently employed in political
discourse. The prominence of negative engagement and little communication
became the norm because monologue was mistaken as dialogue. This
“dialogue” of the deaf thrived on destructive engagement, hurtful and hates
driven communication. Hostile communication is dangerous because it stifles
free speech since it equates free speech as freedom to spite. This equally
stifled freedom of association as seen in the intent not only to discredit an
“apostate” but above all to serve as a deterrent to others. It is pertinent to
note that this environment was fostered because of the prudishness of some
overlords, political activists and political party faithful, who ascribe a high
moral ground for a political opinion. “…apostasy is viewed as a grievous
sin, a perception that is most accentuated in communities with tendencies to
self-ascribed moral righteousness” (Ihebuzor, September 14, 2014). This
bifurcation of Twitter Nigeria into saints and sinners was dominant between
2012 and 2014. “The saintly Nigerian Twitter elite are one who always
criticizes government and her agents... On the other hand, the twitter sinner
is one who has done the unpardonable: taken up a government appointment”
or anyone who “goes against the twitter crowd – it matters nothing if that
person is right – by daring to assert an analytical consciousness or dares to
think independently...” (Egbunike, August 11, 2012). Consequently this over-
simplification created a attendant bitter bifurcation around political
conversations in Twitter Nigeria. “Obviously both camps of Nigerian
Twitterati saints and sinners are unfortunately wrong. This bifurcation is
hinged on generalizations that may have no basis in reality. For the
establishment crowd: all critics are necessarily noise makers seeking attention
and are just waiting to be bought over to perpetual silence or praise singing.
Neither is it always true that anyone who crosses over to the dark side –
‘government’ has necessarily lost his/her soul. And by so doing has won a
lottery ticket to be maligned” (Egbunike, August 11, 2012). Naturally this
hostile political conversation fostered a spiral of silence as tweeps dared not
hold opinions contrary to that exposed by the political party activists, the
selective political activists or the overlords. In effect, an echo chamber was
created around political discussions on Twitter Nigeria.
Consequently, one must emphasize that in an argument, the protagonists
should be willing to listen to one another and to adjust their points of view.
Noel Ihebuzor and Nwachukwu Egbunike 27
The hallmark of a conversation as a means of communication entails respect,
tolerance and constructive engagement. This is because this give and take
discussions are not motivated by self aggrandizement but by a willingness to
share and increase knowledge. Thus, there are positive growth and intellectual
stimulation in the parties engaged in the conversation. The opposite is what
we observe in the corpus we studied. Positions do not change and nobody
listens to the other. The desire is not to grow in knowledge but to justify
already taken positions. The desire is not to shed light on an issue but to
generate bitter friction, to impose one’s ego on the other and to trivialize the
other. Participants in such hostile discourse value winning and personal pride
over knowledge growth. The hostile discourse is driven by the desire to defeat
the other, to diminish him or her and thus to aggrandize self. Since talking is
actually harder than listening (Lee, Humphreys and Watter, 2017) democratic
conversations where parties are not willing to listen to each other is bound
fail (Haroutunian-Gordon, 2003).
Sadly the findings of twitter engagement we studied exhibited the
following - hostile engagement, unwillingness to listen, contempt for the
other, argumentum ad hominem, etc. All of which lead us to conclude that
the major motive was self aggrandizement.
Conclusion
This chapter employed content analysis and a systematic review of ten political
blog posts of the authors’ ethnographic immersion in Twitter Nigeria between
2012 and 2014. The aim of this study was to examine the reason why and
how people use twitter for political discourse in Nigeria. The two research
questions on the dominant themes of political conversation on Twitter Nigeria,
and the motives inferable from the themes that emerged from the content/
context analysis yielded findings which were also discussed.
In summary, these were the four key findings of this study: political
communication on Twitter Nigeria between 2012 and 2014 were hostile,
divisive, bitter and inflammatory. This is obviously dangerous and a raises a
red alert about Nigerian politics. The Rwandan genocide was perpetuated by
similar bile and divisive narrative. Nigeria currently stands as a cross road
with a similar rise in ethnic hate speech.
28 New Media and Society
Nigerian tweeps and indeed, all social media users need to be educated
on the value of mutual respect, tolerance of divergent political opinions and
the maturity that comes with disagreeing without being disagreeable. Perhaps
inculcating social media etiquette and norms into the junior secondary school
curriculum will be a step in the right direction.
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