Social Media Influence Rarely Corresponds with Political Power for Haitian Politicians

In the politics of many countries, social media has taken a front-and-center position in election campaigns. During the 2012 U.S. presidential election, the social networking service Twitter was heavily utilized by the candidates for campaigning and communication. 31 million politics-related tweets were sent out by American Twitter users on Election Day alone.[1]

In Haiti, Twitter and other social media services have not reached this level of significance. The Haitian population has a very low rate of internet access (10.9%),[2] while radio is the foremost means of transmitting and receiving news. Of the 1.44 billion worldwide users of Facebook, a mere 202,600 users are registered as Haitian – 20 percent of Haiti's population, and a far cry from the 58 percent usage in the United States.[3]

Although most Haitian politicians and candidates standing for high office have social media accounts, they fail to attract a large number of followers to these accounts, and fail to engage in any significant way using social media. For instance, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, presidential candidate for Fanmi Lavalas, widely seen as Haiti's most popular political party, has just 383 followers on Twitter. Senator Jean Charles Moise, of the well-known Pitit Dessalines platform, has 1,725. Most candidates hover around this level, with at most several thousand followers.   

Despite this apparent lack of engagement from Haitian politicians with Twitter, a few candidates have far more followers than others, reaching into the tens and hundreds of thousands. Former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe – who registered as a Presidential candidate but was later disqualified – has 84,000 followers. His lawyer, Salim Succar, has a whopping 625,000. Succar also has had a sudden rise in followers, from just over 100,000 in February 2015, to the 625,000 in July.

On Twitter, it is not uncommon for businesses and individuals to seek to amplify their influence by using fake followers. In fact, there are a number of businesses that can provide consumers with thousands of automated Twitter accounts. To give one example, “Devumi Social Media Marketing” will provide an account with 10,000 followers for just $74 USD. These accounts are do not belong to real people; nor do they do tweet or retweet. They exist solely to inflate one’s follower number.

The mere presence of an unusually high number of followers, or even a certain number of verifiably fake followers, does not imply that a user has purchased them. Almost all Twitter accounts will have some fake followers, as “bot” accounts follow as many accounts as they can to camouflage their purpose and appear more like real accounts. The higher the percentage of one's followers that are fake however, the more likely it becomes that the user could be projecting an image of internet influence with cash.

The site TwitterAudit.com analyzes users’ legitimacy based on the ratio of followed to following, the number of tweets, and the date of the most recent tweet. Based on this algorithm, the site estimates what percentage of a user's followers are in fact real humans.[4]An examination of a selection of Haitian political actors and journalists yielded the following results[5]

Name
Occupation
Number of Followers
Percentage Fake 
Salim Succar
Attorney at law
623,000
80%
Michel Martelly
President
122,000
59%
Laurent Lamothe
Former Prime Minister, Disqualified Presidential Candidate, Peyizan
83,500
70%
Evans Paul
Prime Minister
77,000
89%
Sophia Martelly
First Lady
56,700
64%
Carel Pedre
Journalist
39,200
20%
Frantz Duval
Journalist
36,400
63%
Jean Renel Sanon
Former Minister of Justice and Public Security
5,600
34%
Rothchild Francois
Minister of Communication
4,596
34%
CEP Haiti
Provisional Electoral Council
2,438
19%
Jean-Charles Moise
Former Senator, Presidential Candidate, Pitit Dessalines
1,695
27%
Maryse Narcisse
Presidential Candidate, Lavalas
376
17%
Jacky Lumarque
Disqualified Presidential Candidate, VERITE
44
20%


Highlighted users, those with a number of fake followers higher than 50% percent, all have a high likelihood of having purchased some fake followers. Given that the Twitter average user has a minimal rate of fake followers,[6] those with much higher rates likely sought out some of their fake followers. Additionally, there is a striking discrepancy in the number of followers between opposition politicians – many of whom have large support within the Haitian electorate – and politicians close to the Martelly administration. The only person found with over 10,000 followers who does not also have a high rate of fake Twitter followers is journalist Carel Pedre.

If these political figures have intentionally sought out fake Twitter followers, the rationale behind this remains unclear. It seems unlikely, given the low usage of the internet, and even lower usage of social media in Haiti relative to peer nations, that they hope to gain substantial votes using these methods. To speculate, perhaps a broad social media presence is increasingly seen as necessary for legitimacy in a relational context with other countries. Candidates may also expect that apparent social media success provides them legitimacy in the U.S. and other countries where important decisions about Haitian elections are often made. This perceived requirement may lead politicians to attempt to create the illusion of a vast internet following in a nation that is still behind its neighbors in internet infrastructure.


By Andrew Weiss, Elections Intern at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. 






[1]   Sharp, Adam. "Election Night 2012."  Twitter Blog. Twitter, 7 Nov. 2012. Web. 6 July 2015.
[2]   Percentage of Individuals using the Internet 2000-2012", International Telecommunications Union (Geneva), June 2013
[3]   http://www.internetworldstats.com/carib.htm#ht
[4] "Twitter Audit Separating Fake Followers from Real Followers." Times of India. The Times Group, 14 Sept. 2013. Web. 07 July 2015.
[5] For full disclosure, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, where I work, yielded a result of 12% (of 3,594) fake followers.
[6] http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngreathouse/2012/08/27/celebrities-with-the-most-allegedly-fake-twitter-followers/

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