On the 7th and 8th of December 2012, Ghanaians participated in general elections to elect presidential and parliamentary representatives in all constituencies across the nation.
The task of gathering real-time information by leveraging new media tools was an undertaking that was facilitated by PenPlusBytes, the African Elections Project and ukaid with volunteers from the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST).
According to InternetWorldStats, Ghana has an internet penetration rate of a little over 8% and a facebook penetration of 1.3M users being a little over 5% of the general population. Twitter has even lower numbers than facebook in Ghana. These numbers, which are not very large, provided significant insights at their various polling stations during the elections, and these where those for whom the Social Media Tracking Centre was set up.
The centre utilized various information channels such as Twitter, Facebook, SMS, Web, YouTube, etc to interact directly with voters and all concerned citizens in order to
1. provide the public with information about the activites of the elections
2. provide voter education and promotion of a democratic culture
3. ensure transparency and accountability of the electoral process
The Social Media Tracking Centre operated as a platform which
1. Monitored logistics and processes and disseminated information in real time.
- In many cases, issues that were being noised about on radio as truths or facts had earlier on being picked up by the trackers and respective people had been called for authentication and verification at CODEO(Coalition of Domestic Election Observers), the Police Headquarters, the Electoral Commission and in the media. It proved to be the case that over 50% of the cases were not true as being peddled on radio.
- In some cases, voters at polling stations would tweet an incident at their polling station. This tweet would immediately be picked up at the Social Media Tracking Centre and the news would be sent to the respective organizations for them to act on it if it was true.
2. Increase awareness amongst citizens about participation in the elections
- Due to the use of biometric verification, voting had to run for two days. Initially some voters did not readily know that voting would happen in 2 days and the Social Media Tracking Centre used the power of social media to spread the message to electorates. This and other experiences ensured that awareness about the rules was increased among citizens in the elections.
Other things that the tracking centre did included enhancing transparancy of the political process and making the government more accountable to the public in its conduct of elections. It also was a means to mobilize citizens particularly the younger generation, to participate at every level of the political process.
The Social Media Tracking Centre recruited volunteer trackers from Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology. They also brought in volunteers from Nigeria who had done a previous project to share their experiences and expertise. The tracking software was developed by Georgia Institute of Technology.
The Social Media Tracking Centre run for 24 hours each day for the 2-day period and volunteers were run a shift system that ensured that that was possible.
Even though the country’s internet penetration rate is a little over 10%, the Social Media Tracking Centre experiment can be considered a success. The success can be attributed to the speed of execution of the tracking team in picking up information from social media streams, contacting people to get further details of the information, contacting relevant state institutions to inform or alert them of the situation, and also sending out pertinent information to voters on the ground.
The centre was located at the Kofi Annan International Peace-Keeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in Accra.