"Vaccines in Africa" controversy : 35° Nord and Afriques Connectées publish a study revealing the key elements of the bad buzz
35°Nord, a strategic communication consulting agency focused on the African continent, and Afriques Connectées, a laboratory that analyses viral phenomena on social media in Africa, present the results of a study on the controversy generated on social media on 1 April around the potential development of vaccines for combating the Covid-19 crisis. Already active through its partnership with the CovidAfrica website and the publication of daily newsletters on the progress of the pandemic in Africa available on WhatsApp and Telegram specifics chanels, 35°Nord reaffirms its commitment to providing quality, reliable and factual information to all, in a context conducive to fake news.
The study was conducted after analysing over 210,000 publications (Twitter and Facebook) between 1 and 9 April, and is based on deciphering the information dissemination patterns and visibility levers that generated this bad buzz. Regarding the time span, the controversy reached its peak 48 hours after the first amateur video (a smartphone capture of the LCI programme) was posted on Twitter.
On this social media network, 120,000 Internet users took part in the controversy, generating almost 210,000 tweets between 1 and 9 April. These posts generated more than 430 million potential impressions (in comparison, with the 119 million impressions generated by the CFA Franc story in January 2019). The study shows very clearly that the magnitude of the controversy was made possible by the Twitter accounts of international French and diaspora sports and music celebrities. French rapper Booba was the first star to share the video on the night of 1 to 2 April. Subsequently, several African footballers like Didier Drogba, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o (the latter on Facebook) expressed their views on the subject, amplifying the momentum in some African countries like Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal.
These local mobilisations were also led by some Heads of State (Mali, Burkina Faso) and ministers. For example, Senegal's Minister of Health, Abdoulaye Diouff Sarr, tweeted the video of his statement on the subject during a televised discussion on ITV Sénégal on 3 April. His tweet, stating that “Africa is nobody's dumping ground”, was the 4th most retweeted tweet in Senegal around this controversy.
This widespread mobilisation was also visible at the level of international institutions such as the World Health Organisation, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Union development agency AUDA-NEPAD. All these organisations contributed to the online debate around 4 April, the date on which the visibility of the subject began to subside.
This study carried out with Afriques Connectées also shows the information dissemination mechanisms on social media, with the main focus on Twitter. The work carried out enabled us to identify two account profile types that drove the spread of the controversy:
- International stars with more than 100,000 followers, who triggered the activity and opened up the controversy to the general public;
- Small accounts followed by less than 500 followers, who wrote 70% of the 210,000 tweets on the subject and truly represent citizen mobilisation.
On Facebook, anger, mistrust and disapproval were the three main reactions that emerged in the analysis. The anger emoji was particularly used to comment on this issue, accounting for nearly 10% of the total reactions, given that Facebook and its history shows more ‘like’ or ‘comment’ reactions.
In conclusion, “this analysis of the online controversy around Covid-19 vaccines in Africa confirms the power of social media to disseminate content first seen on a French TV programme in just a few hours on a global scale. Although the celebrity voices generated considerable levels of engagement, this controversy remains a popular topic, as can be seen from the large volume of posts that we could describe as ‘citizen expression’, and the enormous popularity of some of these tweets despite their authors' small following” for Romain Grandjean, CEO of 35°Nord.
35°Nord is a consulting and strategic communication agency focused on the African continent and specialising in steering its clients towards opinion leaders, spheres of influence and circles of power in Europe and Africa. Its added value results from its command of the communication and decision-making channels on both continents, and its deep knowledge of the national contexts in Africa. 35°Nord guarantees political, economic and institutional decision-makers higher editorial visibility and optimisation of their channels of influence. It works with national, pan-African and international media. The agency has expertise in the entire value chain: strategic consulting, advocacy, media planning, press conferences and tours, content production, digital communication, financial communication, public affairs and lobbying.
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Afriques Connectées is a laboratory that analyses viral phenomena on social media in Africa, founded by Manon Fouriscot and Jérémy Cauden. As an observatory of Africans on the social web, Afriques Connectées looks at events that resonate with social media on the continent through studies and mapping of online conversations. The laboratory's missions are to decipher these viral phenomena and information dissemination, to identify weak signals and influencers, and to map communities and conversations on issues concerning Africa.