WhatsApp and political communication in West Africa: Accounting for differences in parties’ organization and message discipline online

Jonathan Fisher*, Elena Gadjanova, Jamie Hitchen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Social media has become central to how political parties plan, organize, and coordinate electoral campaigns in Africa, with WhatsApp increasingly the preferred medium. How, we ask, have African political parties made use of WhatsApp to organize internally during elections, and what explains the approaches they have taken? We argue that pre-existing party institutionalization is the main factor influencing how parties use WhatsApp to organize and coordinate campaign events, and reach voters. Comparing Ghana and Nigeria, we show that more institutionalized parties create formal, hierarchical online structures, with in-group policing of message content. Conversely, less institutionalized parties rely on informal, personality-based online structures with unclear hierarchies and where there is little message discipline. This matters both for the spread of mis/disinformation and inflammatory content online, and for parties’ future organizational strength. In both instances, “digital clientelism” ensures that existing patrimonial structures are replicated online, restricting the empowerment of new political actors.
Original languageEnglish
JournalParty Politics
Early online date24 Jul 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jul 2023

Keywords

  • opposition political parties
  • social media
  • WhatsApp
  • Ghana
  • Nigeria

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