All major political parties in South Africa are represented officially on Twitter, using the microblogging social media platform regularly to update society about what they’re up to and what they happen to think about current affairs.
The party that seems to have taken to Twitter most adroitly is the relatively youthful EFF, whose followers often ensure they and their issues dominate the trends lists. If you happen to find yourself on the wrong side of the EFF Twitter army, the experience can be pretty tough if you’re the kind of person who takes tweets from red-clad beret-adorned strangers all that seriously.
One Twitter fan pointed out yesterday that the EFF now has the most followers on Twitter, with 634,000 as of Friday afternoon. This was followed by the ANC with 594,000, the DA with 523,000 and the IFP on a rather pitiful 2,765.
— EFFChiefkazis (@chiefkazis) September 20, 2018
Most other parties aren’t much better, with Cope on 14,700 and the UDM on 3,168. The Christians who like the ACDP, by these standards, come in at a very creditable 10,600.
No political party can match the following of certain top politicians though, with EFF leader Julius Malema pulling 2.2 million followers, the DA’s Helen Zille on 1.34 million and the ANC’s Fikile Mbalula on 1.56 million. This, however, appears more strongly linked to the fact that controversial people tend to get more followers than those who play it safe, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because someone follows you, they think you’re amazing.
What all this appears to demonstrate, however, more than anything, is that Twitter still can’t really be considered very representative of the people of South Africa and their views. The EFF is unlikely to get beyond much more than 10% of the vote in next year’s elections, while the ANC will be hoping to retain its position at around the 60% mark.
The reality is that most South Africans are still excluded from the wonders of the internet because of high data prices and the challenge and cost of both owning a smartphone and using it to tweet like a proper smartarse. For many, something like Twitter can be intimidating.
Twitter therefore offers useful insights into the mood of people who like Twitter – but it can’t be taken as much more than that since only a handful of people on the platform are genuine “influencers”, and that influence often doesn’t extend beyond other people on Twitter reading what they have to say.
Based on their size and the fact that they’re still relatively new to the political scene, though, credit should still be given to the EFF and how good they are at using the medium.
And believe me, they really are good at it. And they have the numbers to show for it.
Unfortunately, though, Twitter can’t get you elected. Which is just as well, because Cyril Ramaphosa only has 318,000 Twitter followers – enough to ensure six or seven seats in parliament next year, but not nearly enough to change the constitution.