As many countries have begun their deconfinement in theory of a hypothetical exit from the crisis, citizens around the world begin to question the management of the pandemic. The health crisis, which will be assessed in detail by experts and specialized international institutions, has also turned into an economic crisis and, as we address here, a crisis of information.
Before Covid-19, the last crisis the world experienced on the same global scale was the financial crisis between 2007 and 2008. But, at that time, social media were still in their infancy; fake news, if they already existed, did not have the same capacity or speed of propagation; governments then did not have the same communication management tools. Today, in the era of social media, live, instant messaging, online movements… governments of 2020 have had to deal with new ways of communicating with their populations from the very beginning of the epidemic. For many people restricted to their homes, individuals have exploited the possibilities offered by digital technology to share and exchange from a distance and maintain the contact with their loved ones but also with society, to keep up to date with the latest developments of the pandemic, and with the health and economic measures taken at national and international levels.
The Covid-19 pandemic crisis was unprecedented in its scope and the speed with which it hit the planet. But it was also unprecedented in terms of means of communication available to States and institutions for the protection of populations. For the first time in a time of global crisis, technology has allowed leaders to communicate in real time and on a wide scale with their citizens.
Covid-19 and social media: how have governments in Africa communicated in the face of the pandemic?
Despite the fears and warnings issued as early as March, Africa remains the least affected continent by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, countries had to face many positive cases and many fake news shared “en masse” on social media, which represent real threats to public health. Beyond the management of the health crisis, public communication, which remains a governmental prerogative, is as much a lever as a challenge in the response provided by States to contain the epidemic. How have African leaders adapted their communication during this pandemic? Have they set up dedicated strategies on social media to inform, raise awareness and protect their populations against the dangers of the pandemic?
The 4P Lab and La Netscouade have joined forces to analyze the digital communication of governments in the 10 African countries that were most affected by the pandemic.
Methodology of the study
Each of the ten countries was screened against three specific indicators:
- Their online presence
- The quality of the management of their institutional accounts
- The specific digital communication put in place for the crisis
The first indicator `Online Presence` consists of the following metrics:
- Evaluation of official websites’ updates, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts of the Heads of State, Presidencies and Ministries observed. The scale is adapted to the particularities of the platforms: a website will no longer be considered up to date if it has not been updated for at least 6 days, while the limit will be 4 days for Facebook and Twitter. A non-existent or non-updated site or account will count as 0 points, a site or account that is rarely updated will count as 0.5 point, and an updated account will count as 1 point.
- An institution with at least one certified account is awarded 1 point.
The `Quality of management` indicator includes the following metrics:
- Quantification of activity: the average number of messages published per day. Between 1 and 2 messages: 0.5 points; between 2 and 3 messages: 1 point; 3 or more messages: 1.5 points.
- Qualification of the proximity of institutions to their audience on social media and interactions: regular answers to users’ questions are worth 1-point, rare answers 0.5 points.
- Evaluation of the frequency and use of live broadcast features (regular = 1 point).
The final indicator `Communication specific to crisis management` is composed of the following metrics:
- Reactivity of the institution to the confirmation of the first cases of coronavirus in the country and announcement of measures put in place (1.5 points if the institution published on the day of the announcement or up to two days later, between 2 and 3 days: 1 point, 3 and 4 days: 0.5 etc.).
- Frequency of interactions with social media accounts of foreign institutions (rare, regular, frequent).
- Coordination between the different accounts of the institutions observed (frequency of retweets and mentions of the ecosystem accounts in the same country – very rare, rare, regular).
The indicators analyzed were evaluated over a period of one month, for the majority they do not fluctuate over time.
The maximum score a country can get is 39 points.
Two distinct levels of digital communication practice in times of crisis emerge from this analysis. On the one hand, States that take advantage of social media to address their populations.
On the other hand, governments that have not yet prioritized digital tools. Among them, some of the countries surveyed make very little use of social media.