Accepted paper:

A "hotbed" of digital empowerment? Media criticism in Kenya between playful engagement and co-option


David Cheruiyot (Karlstad University)
Toussaint Nothias (Stanford University)

Paper short abstract:

Our study revisits assumptions of the techno-optimist discourse surrounding Kenyans’ use of Twitter to challenge misrepresentation of their country. Our content analysis shows how the #SomeOneTellCNN campaign organically aligns itself with both local political interests and global corporate ones.

Paper long abstract:

Twitter is often celebrated as a tool allowing "African" voices to be heard in the public sphere on issues historically dominated by Western voices and institutions. Kenyan twitterati have notably become vocal on issues of misrepresentation of their country in Western media. Labelling this a form of "playful engagement", Tully and Ekdale (2014) argue that humour is a key discursive feature of this digital criticism. Our study proposes to revisit some assumptions of this techno-optimist discourse by analysing the Twitter response to a CNN story labelling Kenya a "hotbed of terror" ahead of Obama's visit to Kenya in 2015. Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) rallied behind the hashtag #SomeOneTellCNN to call out the "negativity" and "sensationalism" of CNN's story. We conduct a content analysis of 269 prominent tweets, and their visual and linguistic features including the most popular images, the alternative representations of Kenya, the tone of the tweets, the most popular/visible voices, and the proportion of tweets engaging alternative local issues. We show that 1) humour was not the dominant tone of the campaign; 2) the collective power of the campaign was not used to raise the global media profile of other, more locally relevant social issues, and 3) the self-image of Kenya recreated was in line with a state project of nation branding and with a broader discourse of Africa Rising. Beyond the playful engagement thesis, we show how the #SomeOneTellCNN campaign organically aligns itself with a set of local political interests, as well as more global, corporate ones.

panel P028
Social media and the political sphere in Africa: reshaping democratic engagement?