Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Facebook friends = regime instability?

I’m giving a talk this week to a group focused on telecoms in Africa, so I’ve been catching up on my African telco statistics. In the process, I stumbled on Online Africa, a really extraordinary collection of data sets about connectivity, social media and the internet in Africa.

The data’s incredibly well sourced, and in some cases, the site’s administrator has done some interesting pre-analysis. Take, for instance, this graph:

Data comes from Afrigator, a popular aggregator of African blogs, and helps give a sense for why some countries (Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria) are better represented on sites like Global Voices than others. In particular, it’s helping me understand why we’ve had such a hard time reporting on current events in Gabon, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. (In fairness, Afrigator, is probably not the best place to find Francophone blogs, as an English language site. But in general, we know of many more blogs in Anglophone nations than Francophone ones…)

I’m also utterly fascinated by this graph:

It’s a visualization of round-trip ping times between a test server and servers around the world. Basically, it’s a way of testing actual speed, rather than promised speed, of internet connectivity in different corners of the world… and it’s a reminder that there are many countries (at least when this data was generated in 2009) that are connected primarily by satellite, where packets take more than half a second to make the round trip.

But the data set I’m most enjoying is this one: the number of Facebook Friends various African leaders can claim. Some leaders have official pages, some private, personal pages. A large number simply have fan pages, put together by a community of supporters. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan leads the pack – by a lot – with 341,759 friends in December 2010. He’s embraced Facebook rather aggressively, going as far as to announce his candidacy for the presidency on the site, probably to preempt the announcement of a rival.

A close look at African leaders with lots of Facebook friends might offer a caution for Jonathan. Here are the top leaders, in terms of followers, as of December 2010″

341,759 Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria
232,424 Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia
61,510 Mwai Kibaki, Kenya
59,744 King Mohamed VI, Morocco
57,072 Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe (Prime Minister to Robert Mugabe)
21,306 Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania
15,723 Hosni Mubarak, Egypt
15,377 Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast
14,714 Jacob Zuma, South Africa
12,658 Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria

In that top ten, we’ve got two leaders who’ve been forced out of power (Ben Ali, Mubarak), one struggling to retain power after losing an election (Gbagbo), one facing protests like the ones that toppled his neighbor (Bouteflika) and one in danger of arrest from opponents within his coalition government (Tsvangirai.) In other words, there doesn’t seem to be a strong correlation between Facebook friends and staying power of a regime.

Very grateful that Online Africa is collecting this data, and hope to meet the person(s) behind the project some time soon.

6 Responses to “Facebook friends = regime instability?”

  1. Ben says:

    The apparent correlation between Facebook popularity and (lack of) staying power of leaders is intriguing. But I don’t think it’s any kind of cause and effect relationship, more likely two independent effects of a single underlying cause.

    There are also surely strong correlations between i) Facebook penetration by country and Facebook popularity of leaders, and ii) Facebook penetration by country and the presence of what Paul Mason described as a new sociological type, the “graduate with no future” – see http://is.gd/ivhcYR).

    In Egypt and Tunisia this group played a key role in the revolutions. In places like Kenya and Tanzania, they’re leading activist opposition movements.

    In other words, where there’s a growing “graduate with no future” class, there will also be i) high Facebook penetration and therefore also high popularity of leaders on Facebook, and quite separately ii) greater likelihood of political instability.

  2. Tim K says:

    Thank you for this post. Data is a very powerful tool that not only helps monitor progress and draw conclusions, but also has the ability to draw people in. I keep finding that people love data (especially infographics). Hopefully, with some care, data can pique the public’s interest in the advancement of African ICT. Of course, an obstacle here is collecting accurate data..

  3. For the curious, the source for the RTT graph is the from Stanford Linear Accelerator Center’s PingER project at http://www-iepm.slac.stanford.edu/pinger/pinger-metrics-motion-chart.html

    If you think that the roundtrip times are high, look at the packet losses – tiny packet losses produce even more user-perceptible latency.

  4. mona says:

    dear friends,

    May I say, you are doing a great job here. Well done.
    I know you are having fun!
    I might have a few ideas…

    I just liked your website..your articles are so cool and really good…awsem…

    your welcome to this site do like it..

    http://www.onlineafrica.us

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Online-Africa/182552898434069

    the link is about actually it is an African portal
    dedicated to serve the african community that provides all sorts of services..
    my pleasure if you like it..

    May God Bless you and take care

    Thankyou..
    :)

  5. Henok says:

    wow. Thanks for sharing. To my surprise Daniel Arap Moi former president of Kenya on Facebook. One of the post say “you were and you are still a great leader full of wisdom.We honour and we ever pray for you” the other say “kenya needs you back moi”. It is amazing how people using Facebook to communicate with present and former president.

  6. wiviontheroad says:

    also worth being aware of for your discussion/presentation, follow up on Nigeria’s ‘facebook election’ from; http://www.movements.org/blog/entry/whos-trying-to-monitor-the-upcoming-nigerian-election/

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