Online operations- Nigeria’s 2023 social media election campaigns

The number of active social media users in Nigeria has risen from 27 million, in 2019, to 36 million ahead of the 2023 elections. But given the challenge of prevailing misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms, and the way such disinformation can permeate into the media more generally, greater access to online information does not necessarily create more informed citizens. In fact, in Nigeria, it has confused the citizenry while entrenching pre-existing divides based on ethnicity and religion especially as malinformation, a deliberate sharing of genuine information with an intent to cause harm thrives in this election. Ahead of the forthcoming polls, renewed sophistication and organisation in the push of disinformation has been observed with efforts generally focused on glorifying or delegitimising political candidates and undermining the credibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). At the same time online organisation remains largely informal, in part by design, with political parties driving disinformation behind the scenes through unofficial party accounts or hired influencers. In 2023, in addition to the use of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, TikTok, with its predominantly video content that can bridge educational divides, is playing an increasingly important role. So too are Twitter Spaces, which are recorded and then shared, as a podcast, across social media platforms in ways that increases listenership. Cross-platform posting remains critical to understanding Nigeria’s digital ecosystem as screen grabs or content from one platform can be shared across all others, broadening the reach beyond the number of direct users. Content also moves from online forums into offline spaces with soldiers of mouth spreading online content through streets talks, in motor parks and at newspaper stands. This makes curbing disinformation very challenging in Nigeria. But at the same time these networks for the flow of information can also promote democracy. Civic awareness of the continuous voter’s registration process and the importance of participating has largely been driven by a sustained online campaign in the run-up to 2023, while the platforms can be used to fact check and hold elected and aspiring officials to account. Finding a balance that accentuates these positives and diminishes the negative aspects must be a priority as the elections approach.

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