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Social media helps curb Nigerian election deathtoll, paving future path

Olusegun Abolaji Ogundeji | April 30, 2015
The dozens of deaths that marred the recent Nigerian elections would be considered shocking by the standards of most developed nations. Compared to past elections, however, the violence this time around was limited, and many observers say social media and technology such as biometric card readers played a big role in minimizing conflict.

The dozens of deaths that marred the recent Nigerian elections would be considered shocking by the standards of most developed nations. Compared to past elections, however, the violence this time around was limited, and many observers say social media and technology such as biometric card readers played a big role in minimizing conflict.

Online services are credited with keeping people informed during the runup to the elections, promoting the feeling they could communicate and express their views without resorting to violence, and other technology helped to ensure cheating would be kept to a minimum. Nigeria's experience suggests that tech can play a role in reducing election-related violence in other countries.

The presidential and parliamentary elections were the most peaceful in Nigeria since the nation embraced democracy in 1999. The winner of the presidential election, former military leader Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, will officially take over from incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, of the People's Democratic Party, at the end of May. It's the first time a sitting Nigerian president has lost a bid for re-election.

"I do believe that the capacity for social media to connect and inform helped Nigeria conduct a free and fair election and helped to keep violence to a minimum," said Michael Best, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, via email. With Thomas Smyth from Sassafras Tech Collective, a worker-owned tech co-op in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Best published a qualitative dual case study, "Tweet to Trust: Social Media and Elections in West Africa," about social media use during the general elections in Nigeria and Liberia in 2011.

Nigeria, in West Africa, is the continent's most populous nation and has 82 million users of GSM-based mobile phones. A recent Mobile Africa 2015 study conducted in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa by GeoPoll and World Wide Worx indicates that Internet access via phones is on the rise in Africa, especially for Facebook use, which stands out as the most common phone activity among the countries surveyed.

While Facebook was the most visible platform for sharing views and information during the Nigerian electoral season, several election-related Twitter handles were created, including hashtags like #NigeriaDecides, which later became #NigeriaHasDecided.  

Google, meanwhile, created a site as a one-stop resource, containing voting information and news relating to the elections, offering content including videos and other digital media for view on desktops, tablets and mobile phones.

Elections in Africa have always been tumultuous. Almost a thousand people died in the post-election period after Nigeria's last general elections in 2011; about 3,000 people died in the Ivory Coast elections in 2010, for which its former president is still on trial; and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is answering to charges involving the 2007 post-election crisis during which hundreds died.

 

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