• Social media has been noted on several occasions and recorded as a severe danger to cognitive warfare, the new fighting front in the 21st century.
  • At this moment, 170 million Africans (Facebook users in Africa) are connected with thousands of people across the globe compared to three decades ago.
  • social media ban affected communications and business, and the impact was immense, as strict regulations made information dissemination cumbersome.

In March 2023, The Guardian report indicated that translated Chinese military reports suggested that warfare shifted from killing the body to invading the mind – forcing United States (the world’s advanced military superpower) President Joe Biden administration’ urging TikTok stakeholders to sell their stake in the app or face US ban.

In the same spirit, TikTok use in East Africa makes social media appear like a grim monster out to devour anything in its path. Recently, the TikTok application in Kenya became a hotbed as the government analyses and acts cautiously against a blanket ban on the Chinese-owned app.

The blanket ban is triggered by growing worries over the content circulated on the widely loved platform, particularly by young people. Further, a 2023 technical report by Amnesty International showed that TikTok’s “For You Feed” pushes forward young users towards consuming content that accelerates depression, anxiety, and self-harm.

With advanced technological breakthroughs unveiled yearly, Africa remains in the middle of technological warfare. This situation forces the continent to rethink its choices in adopting foreign tech and perhaps create its own, like China’s WeChat.

At this moment, 170 million Africans (Facebook users in Africa) are connected with thousands of people across the globe compared to three decades ago.

Similarly, more young people are assuming a crucial position in shaping consumer trends, choices, and political perception via a critical tool: “social media influencers.”

The study by GeoPoll found over 384 million active social media users now exist on the continent. Facebook leads with 170 million users, comprising 44 percent of the total. It also boasts Africa’s highest engagement rate at 82 percent.

However, short-form video app TikTok is rapidly gaining ground. It has a 60 percent active user rate and ranks second over Instagram at 54 percent. Twitter and LinkedIn follow at 49 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

Thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have believed young people such as Kenyan and Tanzanian social media comedians and influencers Crazy Kennar and Joti would make a decent living spreading their humor via seamless channels—controlled and managed individually.

The latter is a product of technological ingenuity and positive adoption of modern technology. At his point, social media platforms such as Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter), YouTube, and TikTok are not merely platforms of communication but tools for shaping minds and influencing public opinion and policy.

 Social Media Numbers in Africa

Social Media Usage Trends in Africa.[Photo/Geopoll]
According to data from Geopoll, Facebook is leading in Africa with active users, boasting 22.68 per cent of users actively using the platform to follow influencers. YouTube closely followed with a significant 17.95 percent active user rate.

Interestingly, the new and trendy platform TikTok captured the attention of 16.95 percent of users, taking its place as a preferred platform for sharing short visual material.

“Instagram secured an active user percentage of 15.54 percent while Twitter (currently known as X) followed with 14.60 percent users and Snapchat has a 6.8 percent active user base,” the Geopoll report said in part.

Social media in Africa is becoming quite peculiar in communication compared to other regions. In the East African region, macro and micro-influencers are becoming the voices of brands and companies. At the same time, they are turning social media accounts into e-commerce systems.

Further down the line, the survey done by Geopoll indicated that –94.87 percent of participants actively follow social media influencers, while a minimal 5.13 percent don’t follow any.

The same data set pointed out another interesting angle on the types of influencers most participants follow.

The study indicated that celebrities, including musicians and actors, have a 23.08 percent following. Journalists and media influencers follow closely at 18.01 percent, and experts in specific fields, such as fashion designers, collect a significant 16.20 percent following.

Whether it’s Davido in Nigeria or Bahati in Kenya, influencers are becoming powerful communication tools and, in the hands of politicians, an additional weapon in their propaganda arsenal.

Read Also: Kenya inches towards banning TikTok citing fraud, identity theft

Social Media Power

The power of social media.[Photo/linkedin.com]
In a disappointing state, it seems the shadow of hating free speech is still lingering in Africa as social media becomes a scapegoat in the name of democracy.

Social media or internet shutdowns have echoed across the region countless times, and its champions have been jailed or faced worse.

In March 2023, Ethiopia denied access to Facebook, TikTok, Telegram, and YouTube nationwide following a confrontation with the nation’s Orthodox church –where religious leaders called for protests.

The four-month social media ban affected communications and business, and the impact was immense, as strict regulations made information dissemination cumbersome.

According to a report by VOA, until the ban was imposed, social media marketer and actress Luna Solomon utilised the platforms to share advertisements for products and services for organisations.

An architect by training, she is well known for her films aimed at the young population. She has over 140,000 followers on TikTok and gained popularity for her film “Behind the Surface,” which explores childhood trauma issues.

Luna says she can make her videos using a VPN, but that will limit her access to new followers and minimise her income.

“When we use a VPN, it always changes the location. So, the audience is also influenced by proximity,” she told VOA. “It doesn’t reach the peop intended, and that reduces the engagement, viewership and page reach.”

Even in South Sudan, a nation ravaged by civil and healing – social media is assuming an essential role in shaping opinion and critique. Facebook and Twitter are threatening the welfare of those in power, who are rolling out internet shutdowns to shut down dissent,

By January 2022, only 4 percent of the nation’s population was on social media. Still, this low number sent a shockwave through the government of President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar.

A DW report showed that social media is becoming a dangerous tool in the eyes of politicians, who are afraid of different opinions spreading to millions of eyes and ears.

“A lot of African governments have fear of their people being able to speak out for themselves freely than before,” expressed Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Lagos-based Media Rights Agenda.

Ojo said people can now freely discuss “governance issues and rate government performance using social media platforms without middlemen.”

“This is not a power that many governments like their subjects to have.”

Social media is not supposed to be a tool that eats away the morals and souls of its users. In this era, especially in Africa, it can become a catalyst for economic transformation. Currently, e-commerce on social media platforms has demonstrated how creative social media marketing impacts consumers and marketing techniques.

The region needs to develop social media platforms that push the pro-Africa agenda, as “rumors” have it for China, TikTok, and WeChat.

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Padili Mikomangwa is an environmentalist based in Tanzania. . He is passionate about helping communities be aware of critical issues cutting across, environmental economics and natural resources management. He holds a bachelors degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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