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Twitter, politics and business

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BILLIONAIRE entrepreneur Elon Musk is developing cold feet in the US$44 billion Twitter takeover, accusing the social media board of concealing certain crucial data about “real accounts” on the platform.

The deal, one of the biggest takeovers in the social media sector, is now in limbo, but for the ordinary users of the service, it is just something they are ignoring.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported: “Elon Musk has threatened to walk away from his US$44 billion takeover of Twitter, accusing the social media company of ‘thwarting’ his requests to learn more about its user base.”

It added: “In a later filing with regulators, Musk said he was entitled to do his own measurement of spam accounts.”

Musk estimates that spam accounts make up as much as 20% of the users, while Twitter argues these accounts are not more than 5% of users.

These numbers are crucial because to Musk, he wants to know actual people on the platform for marketing and how he can monetise his new project.

This is important because he is thinking of what revenues or return he would get on his investment.

This debate is happening too far from our shores and to many, the bigger priorities going by what I see on my timeline is Zimbabwe’s tanking economy and 2023 general elections.

Let us examine how Zimbabwean companies, politicians and activists think of social media.

Many view it as very influential, probably bigger than traditional or mainstream media. Some companies in the recent past have created new positions in their public relations departments to solely manage their social media accounts.

As for politicians and activists, they now mostly see social media as the alpha and omega of communication. They even take polls and revel in the likes and retweets they get. Some even find it beneath their high offices to respond to questions asked by their followers.

However, some have also employed trolls — people who will bully those that do not agree with their principals on certain issues, resulting in the creation of what media academics have called echo chambers.

To the uninitiated, the phrase echo chambers comes from the term echo, where sound bounces back. In simple terms, the echo replicates what was sent initially.

In communication, this simply means there is no conversation when your audience throws back to you what you would have said. It creates a homogeneous community.

Let us get back to what Musk is saying about numbers on the platform. If it is true that 20% of the subscribers on Twitter are bots, what does that mean? It means one in every five of your followers is fake, non-existent or in common language a machine.

Things in Zimbabwe are made worse by recent revelations by a former Murakashi that one in their brigade could control as many as 15 accounts. It means there is only one person who masquerades as 15 people and can tweet, like and retweet their messages.

In simple terms, it is deception because if one follows all the 15 accounts they would be thinking that they are dealing with 15 people, yet in it is only one person.

Let us try to see what verified statistics on Zimbabwe say. The website https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-zimbabwe has some interesting data.

By January 2021, Zimbabwe had 5,01 million internet users. It further states that there are 1,3 million social media users and 14,76 million mobile connections.

The mobile connections are interesting. They are nearly equal to the 15 million national population. How does this happen that Zimbabwe has so many mobile connections when generally the people plead poverty and high data costs?

Data portal has an answer to that. It says: “Many people have more than one mobile connection, so figures for mobile connections may exceed 100% of the total population.”

There it is. We have many things that do not add up. Social media is misleading and one can assume that they have many followers when it is multiple account holders or bots.

Going into the 2023 elections, one can tell that social media will be lit. There is so much traffic on social media and the temperatures are getting higher. However, this is not reflected offline on the ground , where people are still busy with their lives or just trying to survive.

Let us get back to lessons from Musk on the Twitter takeover bid. He argues and correctly so on what are real numbers or genuine accounts on the platform.

This is fundamental for him to know and calculate his real than perceived influence.

These are lessons that our business, activists and politicians have to learn and learn fast. It is fancy to be a star or sleek on social media but the reality is most likely 20% of your audience is phantom. You will literally be speaking to yourself.

The old media and communication channels are still relevant and need to be complemented where necessary.

The likes and retweets are good for puffed up egos, but in reality, one may be living in an echo chamber or bluntly talking to themselves.

The statistics on mobile internet penetration, bandwidth and cost of data in Zimbabwe point to facts that social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, are still elitist.

WhatsApp may be universal because it is cheap at the moment, but it is filled with a lot of noise and needs a proper discerning person to comb through the chaff for real information.

Social media, while welcome, activists, politicians and business still have to do an extensive audit to see whether it meets their communication requirements in reality. Until then, we can all be little Musk.

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