The success story of Penplusbytes’ establishment of the Social Media Tracking Center (SMTC) for the 2012 general elections in Ghana has been documented by the organization. The report gives an overview of the activities, findings and recommendations of the SMTC which can be adopted for future elections in Ghana and in other Africa elections.
The SMTC was instituted with support from DFID and ran for a total of 10 days before the Ghana elections and nonstop over the 72-hour period from the day of voting to the eventual announcement of the winner of the elections. It was staffed by volunteers from the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), Georgia Institute of Technology from the USA, EnoughisEnough from Nigeria and technical experts from Penplusbytes.
The technology at the middle of Ghana’s SMTC was the Aggie social media tracking software, developed at Georgia Tech. For Ghana’s election, Penplusbytes identified social media sources from Twitter, Facebook, Ushahidi, and individual blogs, which were streamed in real time to Aggie. Verified incidents of election irregularities, voting fraud, violence, etc. were communicated to embedded SMTC representatives at Police Headquarters, the Electoral Commission, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers CODEO, and the Media.
In outlining the relevance of the SMTC for the elections, Penplusbytes’ Projects Director, Jeremiah Sam says “the primary reason why the SMTC proved to be a valuable asset in the 2012 elections is that Ghanaians have become quick adopters of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) and in 2011 mobile-cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants stood at 84.78, experiencing a 20 percent increase from 2009 which meant that there was a high potential of electoral incidents to be reported on social media which could be monitored and forwarded to the electoral security taskforce if the need be to help prevent or reduce irregularities and violence during the elections .”
At the end of the project, more than a quarter-million reports were monitored by Aggie and nearly 350 incidents logged. While many of the reports featured large trends, such as problems with some of the biometric voter verification technology, a significant number of the incidents related to singular events that had escaped the attention of the traditional media, police, or electoral commission were also logged by the system. Such SMTC incidents, which ranged from information on closed polling places to occasions of violence, were followed up directly by the relevant Ghanaian authorities.
The report concludes that, the experience of the SMTC in Ghana’s 2012 election demonstrates that social media tracking is a valuable tool for election monitoring, and could be further integrated into the election monitoring process to enhance the legitimacy of election results.