Twitter Democracy: Policy versus identity politics in three emerging African democracies.

Title: Twitter Democracy: Policy versus identity politics in three emerging African democracies.
Format: Conference
Publication Date: May 2015


Social media offers new ways for citizens to discuss and debate politics and engage in the democratic process. These online systems could be places for rich policy relevant debate, which is favored by scholars of deliberative democracy. Alternatively, social media might be a platform for an identity driven form of political discourse that is routinely scorned by scholars of democracy. To examine these two possibilities, we analyzed tweets sent during three national elections, the defining participatory process of democracy. Our dataset includes over 760,000 tweets gathered during national elections in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya from 2011 to 2013. In order to analyze the degree to which Twitter was being used for policy relevant discussion we developed policy term sets through a text analysis of the major political party platforms. To examine the amount of discourse focused on identity issues we created identity term sets based upon national religious, tribal, and regional differences. In Nigeria, where divisive identity politics feed violence and electoral misconduct, discussion of tribe, region, and religion dominate mentions of platform policies. In contrast Ghanaians, who enjoy the most robust democracy of the three countries, were seven times more likely to discuss policy issues rather than identity. Kenyan democracy is still undergoing consolidation, and tweets again reflect this, with almost as many tweets devoted to tribal identity as campaign policy. These findings suggest that social media discussions may echo the state of democratic deepening found in a country during its national elections.

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