Using Botometer, a social media observatory tool created at Indiana University which can detect suspected bot accounts, URN reporters found out that five of the top ten accounts tweeting about NRM manifesto messages and events are suspected bot accounts. Botometer places the likelihood of the accounts in question to be bots above 72 percent.
With #Sevolution and #SecuringTheFuture hashtags, the
National Resistance Movement (NRM) is leveraging Twitter platform to reach
voters in the ongoing virtual campaigns conducted in the shadow of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
NRM has been using the hashtags consistently since nomination of party
candidate, Yoweri Tuhaburwa Kaguta Museveni who is walking the talk on what he
described as the scientific campaign by taking toll on most of the media fronts and
minimizing mass campaigning.
Uganda Radio Network - URN reporters downloaded and analyzed over 12,000 tweets sent out using
#SecuringYourFuture hashtag between Midday Wednesday, November 11th and Friday
morning, November 13. This means that NRM enthusiasts were posting at least
6000 tweets per day.
The top ten Twitter accounts were positing an average of 95 tweets per 24hrs.
The accounts posting out the highest number of tweets include @xclusiveug,
@Asantejnrruhima, @basiandrew, @bobsonmaiso and @votem72021. Others are
@news24ug, @hajiahmedkater2, @brainmixologist, @uganda_front and @mutesijanet7.
Dr. Sara Namusoga, a social media expert, argues that Social media makes it
easier for politicians to find, listen to, and engage with their supporters
during their election campaigns. According to her, NRM’s presence can’t be
organic as the NRM or the president Museveni media team must have laid out a
detailed strategy on how to take control of the social media space.
She explains that to take over social media space, one targets engagement, reach and
mentions of a given subject, “at times many people fail to understand how social
media works. when they get some likes and retweets they think that is all. No,
there must be a complete deliberate strategy looking at the content, designs,
visuals and timing.”
Emmanuel Dombo, the NRM communications director, chest
thumbs about the social media presence saying they laid out a good strategy
which has started yielding fruits. Dombo says the party has both an internal
mechanism but also is benefiting from hundreds of volunteers reaching out to
the electorate via the new media.
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URN also understands that the NRM has set up an entire
communication hub with media and communication commentators and groups of social
media influencers to develop and disseminate content, comment on and counter
attack posts from opposition forces.
Andrew Besigye, is one of the tweeting maniacs putting up
hundreds of tweets on a daily basis. He shares that before they started sharing
what NRM has done and promising to do if elected in office again, there was a
lot of misinformation coming from opposition smearing dirty on NRM.
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Asante Ruhima, another person whose tweets are
outstanding claims to be a farmer and NRM enthusiast. He says he is
doing the social media engagement free of charge as part of patriotism inspired
by the achievements of the ruling government.
Although Ruhima claims that he spares just a few minutes off his busy schedule
to tweet about two good things done by the NRM government, analysis shows that
his account posted 206 posts in the analyzed time frame.
Meanwhile, random checks by these reporters has also revealed that the NRM communication
and media team might be employing Twitter bots. A bot is an agent that
communicates more or less autonomously on social media, often with the task of
influencing the social media users. At time bots given different algorithms to make
regular engagements on a particular issue.
Using Botometer, a social media observatory tool created at
Indiana University which can detect suspected bot accounts, URN reporters found
out that five of the top ten accounts tweeting about NRM manifesto messages and
events are suspected bot accounts. Botometer places the likelihood of the
accounts in question to be bots above 72 percent.
But, when this fact was put to the communication team at NRM,
they neither denied or accepted that this could be part of their on social media
strategies saying that he cannot disclose the party tactics as he would be
giving their opponents room for counter attack.
Whereas National Unity Platform - NUP and their candidate Robert
Kyagulanyi Ssentamu are also fighting for the same space, their visibility
seems to be slim. Dr. Namusoga explains that NUP has just failed to take on
basics of social media campaigns like laying specific strategies like
development of hashtags to give direction of the narrative.
Dr. Namusoga says this helps them to get a link between all tweets for their
campaign and when someone taps onto one of the tweets then increases the
chances of seeing others with the same hashtag thus influencing the course of
discussion and the opinions of readers.
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The Secretary-General of the National Unity Platform, David Lewis Rubongoya
notes that even without a formal media strategy NUP has enjoyed a big presence
on social media. He notes that they have deliberately not put up specific hashtags
for their campaign letting the masses to lead the narrative.
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It should be remembered that prior to the 2016 election candidate Amama Mbabazi
had presented a wide presence in both main stream and social media. However,
according to different reports, the part which had been in power for 30 years laid
strategies to counter Mbabazi’s media influence with a wide recruitment of
journalists, bloggers and social media influencers.
From 0ctober to November 2015, candidate Museveni was already leading on social
media with 23,900 mentions, 14300 engagements and possibility of reaching out
to over 152.1 million users. Mbabazi had 20.6 mentions, 4.3 engagements and
said to have reached out to 82.8 million users.