When does Twitter noise become influential?

Africa, known as the ‘mobile continent’, has leapt from a basis of verbal communication to the possibility of 4G in under 10 years, with social media becoming key to understanding influence and the shaping of the continent’s future. Our latest ‘How Africa Tweets’ study aimed to do just that by offering different perspective on how Africans use Twitter, covering topics like the environmental concerns in coastal regions, the effect of ISIS in Africa, and the use of native languages.

During this study, some surprising findings came to the fore that we did not expect.

Specifically, we found that the small island of Comoros had the highest level of Tweets Per Capita [TPC] of 0.77 across the continent. This was a surprise because it was much higher than countries like South Africa at a level of 0.29 with a population 529 times bigger. Furthermore, the content of the most popular hashtags in Comoros focused on cyber warfare, gangs and Raytheon! Portraying Comoros as a dangerous source of global cyber-attacks simply did not match our previous insights and open research – this data needed challenging.

Situated to the north west of Madagascar, the island of Comoros is best known for topping the table for women’s rights in Arab countries as well as hosting a spate of failed coups, but not a burgeoning technological revolution. For this reason, the high TPC and the prevalence of Japanese in the top hashtags was particularly strange. Various theories were entertained – a resident Japanese national, passing mariners or the preferred location for Virtual Private Networks? Unlikely. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unaware of any national residing in the Comoros, the language does not feature prominently in any other coastal states. If you are going to hide your digital footprint, surely hide in the traffic, not in the silence. Whoever was posting these tweets had a purpose, they wanted to be heard, and we were hooked.

After further analysis the source was revealed as an individual from Japan who had lost his job. Tweeting every five minutes he had contributed over 198,000 tweets to the world and in our research period 99,000 geolocated tweets had washed ashore on the Comoros. This was more tweets then Barack Obama, Narendra Modi, David Cameron, Vladimir Putin, François Hollande and even Justin Bieber combined.

His message was consistent: multiple hashtags, including #electronicwarfare, #gangstalking and #voicetoskull, were targeted at individuals who he accused of using electronic waves to force him to lose his job. Using the space offered by the Comoros’ largely inactive Twittersphere he has told his story, a voice in the silence.
The difficulty with social media is understanding something inherently subjective – noise, often irrelevant information, to us may be signal, something of interest, to someone else. With 458 followers the direct influence this individual has is limited, but his opinions have dominated the Comoros’ Twittersphere, attracted international attention, and demonstrated that consistent noise can equate to attention – 25,266 views on his Google + profile.

But the Comoros is not the silicon valley of Africa, it does not have a population schooled in electronic warfare and Japanese cannot be considered its primary language.

Our study therefore proves that social media can both inform and mislead, and our role is to spot the implausible and challenge our initial assumptions. When it comes to data, we suggest you do too. While it’s easy to mistake Twitter noise for influence, it must be avoided to fully understand the most important conversations on the platform.

Explore our interactive infographic and read our case studies on how #AfricaTweets via www.HowAfricaTweets.com

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