Thursday, December 08, 2016

US Assistant Secretary, Others Visit Social Media Tracking Centre

The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas – Greenfield is among a list of high profile officials who have paid working visits to Penplusbytes’ Social Media Tracking Centre (SMTC) since its official deployment to monitor online activities related to the 2016 Ghana Elections. 

The visit was to familiarize with the operations of the widely acclaimed centre established at Penplusbytes’ New Media Hub in Accra ahead of and during the December polls.
Mrs. Greenfield, who was accompanied by a team of aides from the US Embassy congratulated Penplusbytes for its role in leveraging technology for civic participation, transparency and the deepening of Ghana’s democracy. “Technology is a game changer and it’s superb that you are using it the way you are,” she said.

The SMTC monitors and respond in real-time to reports emanating from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. The technology at the centre of this system is the AGGIE social media tracking software, developed by a team from Georgia Tech and the United Nations University Computing and Society. Aggie allows the presentation of trends grouped around voting logistics, violence, political parties among others. Through rapid citizen feedback, gathered through social media, problems identified or tracked that may trigger security incidents are then shared with the National Elections Security Taskforce, Ghana Police Service and the Electoral Commission for quick resolution, contributing to a peaceful election. 

Also at the centre was the Elections observer Mission of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) led by Senior Associate for Africa Christopher Fomunyoh, PhD. In solidarity with Ghana ahead of the polls, a member of the team, Ambassador Jonnie Carlson said “Ghana needs to know that they’re not alone. All of us who believe in the ideals of democracy stand with you.”

Other key organizations that paid working visits to the center include DW-Akademie led by the Country Representative Media Development Africa, Dr. Daniel Blank, the African Union Election Observation Mission, the EU Election Observation Mission, as well as a team from CODEO and the Voice of America (VOA).

Executive Director of Penplusbytes, Kwami Ahiabenu, II, said Social media provides insight and up to the minute information which proves critical in ensuring a successful Ghana Elections 2016. “Although there is a lot of activity when it comes to monitoring mainstream media, there isn’t much of an efficient manual tracking of trends in social media here in Ghana. Our interest has therefore been to fill the gap in efficient data monitoring of elections issues before, during and after the December 7 polls.”

Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and driving oversight for effective utilisation of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Using social media for good during Ghana's elections

With Internet shutdowns becoming the norm during Africa's elections, a tech group is betting on Ghana staying online when the country votes so it can track social media to spot potential trouble.

Shutting down the Internet looks like becoming the rule rather than the exception when African nations go to the polls. In 2016, governments in Gabon, Uganda, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville and, most recently, Gambia have shut down the Internet or social media around election time.

Even in Ghana, long considered a shining light of democracy in Africa, the police chief has threatened several times to close down social media during the December 7 general elections.

But Penplusbytes, a non-governmental organization committed to using new technologies to strengthen governance, is counting on Ghana's social media being awash with information on election day.

By using software programmed with keywords to track what Ghanaians are posting online during the polling, the organization aims to pick up on problems on the ground and get them resolved quickly. (The open-source software, Aggie, behind the tool here is available on GitHub and you can find out more here)

World map of internet shutdowns
A map of internet shutdowns showing 25 countries being affected in 2016.

A rotating team of around 35 staff and volunteers will track Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds and texts sent to a dedicated SMS shortcode  in real time for 72 hours. The software analyzes and visualizes keyword trends, which can be grouped into topics – such as voting logistics (Is the polling station open on time? Are there enough ballot papers?), violence, political parties or specific locations with a history of trouble. The team can use these trends to detect potential irregularities or violence and pass these incidents on to the appropriate authorities.

"The fact that we are watching social media means that when you post something or tweet something, like a problem with ballot boxes or a security issue, then we can get this information to the right authorities and get the issue attended to," said Kingston Tagoe, a software developer who is coordinating the project for Penplusbytes.

In Ghana's 2012 election, when Penplusbytes used the software for the first time, it logged nearly 350 incidents.

Penplusbytes has partnered with several official organizations and NGOs, including Ghana's Electoral Commission, the National Election Security Taskforce (which includes army and police) and a coalition of domestic election observers so that it can directly pass on its reports to those responsible.

Speaking on Skype from Ghana, Tagoe also stressed the importance of determining if the information is true before passing it on. Misinformation and false news are rife at sensitive periods such as elections (and are one of the reasons often cited by authorities for closing down social media), so verification is paramount, he said.

The social media tracking project is dependent, of course, on Ghana staying online during the election period – something that earlier in the year looked less likely.

In May, Ghana's Inspector General of Police, John Kudalor, said if the situation called for it, police would consider blocking social media on the eve or day of elections. His comments triggered a storm of online protests and many groups, including Penplusbytes, penned their disapproval of the shutdown threat.

Ghana Wahlen Wähler vor Wahlurne (AP)
The social media tracking project is dependent on Ghana staying online during the election period

In a statement seen as a victory for digital rights and freedom of expression, Ghana's President John Mahama (a very active social media user) later chimed in on the debate, promising in August that the government had "no intention to shut down social media on election day."

Jeremiah Sam, program director at Penplusbytes and a journalist, said he thinks Ghana is "safe from an Internet shutdown at the moment." Having so many citizens, politicians and organizations vocally united against an Internet shutdown undoubtedly makes it more difficult for officials to order such an action, he said.

But Sam also believes Penplusbytes' strategy of meeting with the police and talking and working with them to explain how social media works and its advantages for the force has been particularly effective.

"When it comes to face-to face combat, [the police] are trained at the police academy. But when it comes to social media, they don't know how to handle it – and if they don't know how to handle it, it's a threat," Sam said.

"So when we talk to the police, we sell the idea that social media is actually an asset."

By picking up on inciting language or acts of aggression, the early warning tracking tool, for instance, can help pick up on issues before they flare, making the police's work easier.

In the past months, police representatives have visited Penplusbytes to see the social media tracking tool in action and better understand how it works. The Ghana police has now started using social media more effectively themselves and started a Twitter account in October They are also using the hashtag #safeballot to campaign for peace during the Ghana 2016 elections, Sam pointed out.

With Ghana's elections looming, it remains to be seen if the country stays online and allows social media to play a central role in keeping its citizens participating and informed.

How to contribute:
If you're voting in Ghana on election day and have something to report, use the hashtag #ghanaelections to ensure that Penplusbytes' social media monitoring tool picks up your information.

Source :

3rd Quarter Social Media Index Shows Steady Growth

Penplusbytes has released its latest social media ratings on Ghana’s traditional media, revealing the performance of established newspaper brands, radio and television (TV) stations in Ghana for the 3rd quarter of the year 2016.

Premised on the same objectives as the 1st and 2nd Quarter reports, Penplusbytes’ 3rd Social Media Index (SMI) report reviews the outlook of various media entities in Ghana based on their presence, followers and likes on social media; particularly Facebook and Twitter.
Assessing the activities and performances of well over 350 radio stations, 60 Newspapers and 34 TV stations in Ghana who are harnessing social media as a news generation and dissemination tool, the report lends credence to the status of Facebook as the most popular social media tool in Ghana with greater patronage than Twitter. It comes, therefore, as no surprise that there are more Ghanaian radio stations on Facebook (70) than there are on Twitter (39); as many TV stations on Facebook as there are on Twitter (23) and more Newspapers on Facebook (21) than there are on Twitter (8).

The report indicates that Citi FM has overtaken Joy FM as the most followed radio station on Facebook after losing the slot to Multimedia’s foremost radio station in the 2nd quarter report.  On Twitter, Joy FM maintains its lead as the 1st ranked radio station; a position it has held onto since the beginning of the year.

The report, which is downloadable here, provides detailed insights on similar indices for TV and Newspaper categories as well. 

With data collected remaining valid as at 15th October, 2016, this report measures how Ghana’s traditional media utilize their online platforms to reach out and engage their target audience by employing a quantitative research module. The module provides relevant numerical figures which informs the rankings.

Kwami Ahiabenu II, Executive Director of Penplusbytes, said the report’s outcome highlights the general use of social media by the media and their newsrooms. “Traditional news sources – radio, TV and newspaper – have stricken an almost inseparable connection with new media techniques of which social media is key and this report serves as an indication of news organizations’ attitudes towards new media,” he added. 

Though social media’s influence is rising and hastening the spread of information and ensuring an increasing reliance of readers on online resources to provide information and news, there still seem to be a snail-paced transition to what is evidently an important shift from physical print towards online media.
This report shows that though many media houses own various social media accounts, they have failed in the efficient and effective management of their accounts as many have been left without updates for many months and even years in some cases; thereby defeating their purpose. Only a handful of media brands run dedicated social media accounts with stations in the Greater Accra region holding on to their stake as owners of the most active and engaging accounts.

The report reveals a key characteristic of media houses and their online activities in the lead up to the December 7 polls; how citizens, the media and political actors have utilized the tool to engage, interact and amplify voices on key issues around the elections.
Beyond trademark writing and posting styles as well as hashtag uses, many media outlets, as part of their strategies to court maximum interest and following, and to better engage their online audience before, during and after the elections, have adopted Ghana elections themed account names prefixes on social media especially on Twitter and perhaps as indication of what their topmost priority issue within the period is. This phenomenon appears to have contributed to a surge in the general appeal the number of followers of media/news entities on social media.

Joy FM’s Twitter account is prefixed by #ElectionHQ, Citi FM’s has #GhElections, Starrfm has #EIBElectionHub and TV3 has #ElectionCommand. These accounts unsurprisingly are amongst the best performing media entities on social media with the most up-to-date, interactive and best followed as revealed in the findings presented in this report.

Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and driving oversight for effective utilisation of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.

Akufo-Addo beats Mahama on Facebook in Penplusbytes’ 3rd Governance Social Media Index

Since June 2016, Penplusbytes has issued two Governance Social Media Index (GSMI) reports. The 1st Edition published on June 30th, provided a baseline data on the presence of Political party leaders, Political parties and election management bodies on Twitter and Facebook. The 2nd Edition issued on September 30th 2016 measured how the political parties and their candidates are using social media tools (using the June baseline) for their benefits ahead of the 2016 elections. 

This edition provides an assessment of which political parties and leaders have the most presence on social media and the level of their engagement as of 4th December 2016. 

According to the 3rd GSMI report which is downloadable here, the largest opposition party’s leader, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, leads the pack of presidential candidates on Facebook with 1,253,452 likes which is an increase of over 200,000 more likes from the last report. President John Dramani Mahama followed in 2nd with 1,073,088 likes on Facebook which also indicates an increase of over 60,000 likes from the last report. 

The 3rd GSMI has shown that the opposition leader, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has over taken President John Dramani Mahama who led the pack of the presidential candidates in the 2nd edition of GMSI issued in September 30, 2016. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo gained more likes (272,395) as compared to that of President Mahama (65,493) in the last two months.

On the other hand, President John Dramani Mahama has a commanding lead on Twitter with 303,924 followers, followed by Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo with 119,725 followers. This lead on Twitter gives the President a clear opportunity to make the critical impact through his messages because of the wider audience at virtually no cost to him. Even though President Mahama leads on Twitter with 303,924 followers, the opposition leader, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has engaged more with his constituents via Twitter with 5,372 tweets.

According to the Executive Director of Penplusbytes, Kwami Ahiabenu II, “the report has shown that social media has become a normal and central form of communication for all segments of the population, particularly, political parties and their leaders who increasingly rely on this new media for constant engagement with their constituents because it provides direct, cheap platform, and a two-way information dissemination in real time about their programs ahead the 2016 Ghana elections.”

The report has further shown that all political party leaders are taking advantage of the real-time, two-way and cheap communication opportunities presented by social media to propagate their campaign messages in a very positive manner. The constant engagement with the youth who are the majority users of these platforms is very positive as it provides an opportunity for the youth to express themselves.


Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organization driving change through innovations in three key areas: using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability, new media and innovations, and driving oversight for effective utilization of mining, oil and gas revenue and resources.