Ghana’s social media watchers help to keep the peace in tense election
“I can get through at least 1,000 posts in an hour,” says a slightly exasperated volunteer, who is monitoring social media chatter around Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
This is Ghana’s Social Media Tracking Centre (SMTC), led by Accra-based media organisation Penplusbytes. The centre’s chief executive officer, Kwami Ahiabenu II, oversees dozens of volunteers who scour social media for any irregularities or incidents such as late voting, missing voting materials, lack of security and issues of violence.
On 7 December, when Ghanaians went to the polls, Ahiabenu’s team found more than 50 confirmed electoral incidents. These were mostly reported in Accra where people have good access to mobile data.
As the election process goes into the third day, supporters of both parties are becoming agitated. President John Dramani Mahama and his main opponent Nana Akufo-Addo have both asked their followers to remain calm as the electoral commission works on collating the official results.
When Ahiabenu’s team finds a disturbance, they alert a large group of more than 10,000 people including domestic observers, media practitioners, security agencies, electoral officials and civil society groups, who are on the ground to confirm any incidents. Should case be confirmed, the escalating team report it to the police task force and the electoral commission.
Social media has played an important role in Ghana’s campaign season. While politicians sent out through sharp tweets and trendy Instagram posts, citizens engaged in debate around the issues they care about most.
“Democracy requires that citizens participate, they can do that through various options but the use of mobile phones, SMS, mobile apps and social media provide a cost-effective mechanism,” Ahiabenu tells The Africa Report.
Ahiabenu’s initiative ran in the 2012 election, taking inspiration from the 2011 Nigerian elections. But social media in Ghana has developed considerably over the last four years, increasing the amount of interactions for the the platform to work with and making it more relevant.
The project has pooled together a team of 50 volunteers from the University of Ghana and the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology with students also coming from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Interest to take the initiative across the continent – including Kenya for the August 2017 elections – has already been made clear.