Twitter Nigeria: Seven years on


Just as Twitter celebrated its seventh year last week by reeling out amazing numbers of subscribers, Twitter Nigeria marked the week with a show of robustness evident in the world-wide trending of the hilarious tweet fight between us and Kenya. Twitter might be 7 years old (established March 21, 2006), and Nigeria a somewhat late adopter but its popularity and influence is on the rise with each passing day that it is foolhardy for anybody to ignore it. In the Nigerian social media sphere, Facebook certainly still has the numbers but Twitter is now the pulse of the nation.

Twitter was set up 7 years ago by Jack Dorsey and his pals at Odeo. It did not have the classic start-up tradition of an Ivy League university campus or dad’s garage; instead it stole in under the limelight – just an SMS service to communicate to a closed group of people. Slowly but surely, the numbers kept rising until Twitter became the bane of governments, inspiring revolutions across the middle east, redefining social engagements, changing the face of PR and marketing, spawning the era of self-promotion, affecting diplomatic entente, empowering the middle class, agitating the ruling class and re-energizing social media all in 140 characters.

Like I said earlier, Twitter was slow in gaining popularity in Nigeria. A combination of low internet penetration in the mid to late 2000s, the supremacy of Facebook and the initial difficulty of mastering Twitter by first timers were the probable causes. But times have changed. The ubiquity of smart phones and Blackberrys, cheaper internet access and the fad culture has turned Nigeria into a “Twittering” giant. But most importantly, the Arab Spring, fueled by Twitter and Facebook, inspired Nigerians to stage a Twitter propelled Fuel Subsidy removal revolt and bring Twitter to the big party.

Before the Fuel Subsidy demonstrations of January, 2012, Twitter was gaining followers across the nation as an alternative to Facebook. But the subsidy demonstrations was like a shot in the arm as citizens, especially young people, sought to follow proceedings even after the nation had been shut down by labour strikes. The flexibility and immediacy of dissent in 140 characters was both refreshing and unique and the platform saw a surge in numbers. Since then the Nigerian Twitter space has become emboldened with arm chair critics, keyboard pundits, self-appointed ombudsmen, political “twitternauts,” government propagandists, customer care handles, egotistic celebrities, comedians, opinionated bloggers (read me), “wannabee” teenagers, the good folks who beat Kenya in that Tweet fight and an ever ranting Odemwingie.

The Nigerian Twitter space has moved from the margins to centre spread. It now dictates the agenda, has become a certain kind of “gallup poll” or vox populi if you like, and is now the number one destination for news. No wonder a couple of weeks ago, Google shut down its RSS services. When Goodluck Jonathan won the presidential elections in 2011, his Facebook page was the centre of his social media campaign; today Twitter is, as his media specialists battle opinions, ideas and opponents with active Twitter handles. The preeminence of Twitter was established last week when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to summon the US envoy to explain certain Tweets which the government found inappropriate. The meanness of Twitter was exposed a fortnight ago when the careless gaffe of the Lagos Commandant of the civil defence corps led to him being unashamedly pilloried.

On Twitter there is a saying that while Facebook is like a little town where everyone knows each other, Twitter is like New York, the big, crowded city, where to make it, ‘you gotta work hard.’ Twitter Nigeria is a cerebral sphere. The conversation is intelligent and meaningful. Yes, divisions are still evident. But the pulse is of a young, proud demographic, frustrated with the pace of progress, yet fiercely protective of the motherland. Ask the Kenyans.

Archimedes once said, “Give me a point to stand on and I’ll move the earth.” I say, just 140 characters, sir.




News goes Social

“Retweets are not endorsements, they are the news.” – Sirwebs

@Jesseoguns proudly announced on Twitter that he had bought a newspaper this November for the first time in two years. Honestly, he is not in the minority anymore as more and more people access their news from the internet through websites, RSS feeds, news aggregators (read Google) and Social Media sites (Twitter, Facebook, BBM, etc). Newspapers are not the only traditional news outlets affected by the online evolution; for me the television is no more a primary source too as video feeds are all over the internet and one can, for example, catch Ibrahimovic’s wonder goal or the funeral of the slain Hamas leader at their convenience via YouTube or Yahoo to name the leading destinations.

This is old news though, what is new about news is the influence of social networking on the content an individual receives. In the old days nearly everybody received the information editors and producers published or put in the newscast, today we see or read what our friends and the friends of our friends ‘recommend.’ Newsfeeds on Facebook, Twitter and the BBM network are what the average connected person is heavily exposed to. Also most news websites from Yahoo to the New York Times have ‘social’ integration that ‘broadcast’ information we have seen to our friends. Thus the old adage, “tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are,” is still evergreen and has become relevant in a post-modern world where who you follow literally determines the news you get.

The distinctiveness of news becoming social is that one can get restricted content if a person’s network is made up of like-minded people with niche interests. So once again, @jesseoguns can access the latest goings on in programming language, API’s, mobile apps etc and miss the death of say, an Olusola Saraki. Inaccuracy and misinformation is unfortunately a bane of news carried in the virtual social sphere. The BBM is notorious for spreading wrong information and sometimes falsehoods and the recent misreport of the death of Governor Suntai, in the immediate aftermath of his plane crash, was heavily influenced by Twitter and social messaging portals.  

News will increasingly become social and the concept of the ‘gatekeeper’ continually redefined. Apps like Flipboard that aggregate news from various social networks are the future. A future ‘tweeps’ like @jesseoguns can influence what is news.