Perhaps African Leaders Should Avoid Facebook

A new statistical analysis indicates that the more Facebook fans an African politician has, the more likely they are to be forced from power.



Statistics can be used to prove anything. In the realm of social media, for instance, they can even be used to predict the career longevity of African leaders. While correlation is not necessarily causation, it seems that the more Facebook friends an African politician has... the more likely they are to be thrown out of office.

African internet analysis site Oafrica recently published a data set of the Facebook presences of different African presidents, prime ministers and rulers. It revealed interesting data nuggets: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan gained more than 250,000 online 'likes' for his official page in five months, while President Fradique De Menezes of far-off Sao Tome & Principe only had a mere 24 Facebook fans for his community page as of December 2010. In the following months, only two more Facebook users liked de Menezes' page.

But then Ethan Zuckerman, a researcher at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, discovered that having more followers on Facebook was directly proportional to regime instability:

Here are the top leaders, in terms of followers, as of December 2010:

341,759 Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria
232,424 Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia
61,510 Mwai Kibaki, Kenya
59,744 King Mohamed VI, Morocco
57,072 Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe (Prime Minister to Robert Mugabe)
21,306 Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania
15,723 Hosni Mubarak, Egypt
15,377 Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast
14,714 Jacob Zuma, South Africa
12,658 Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria

In that top ten, we’ve got two leaders who’ve been forced out of power (Ben Ali, Mubarak), one struggling to retain power after losing an election (Gbagbo), one facing protests like the ones that toppled his neighbor (Bouteflika) and one in danger of arrest from opponents within his coalition government (Tsvangirai.) In other words, there doesn’t seem to be a strong correlation between Facebook friends and staying power of a regime.

Of course, Africa is in a uniquely unstable geopolitical position right now. Egypt and the Maghrebi states have been turned upside-down as a result of the 2011 Arab revolutions. Meanwhile, the Ivory Coast is still suffering from an ongoing political crisis that puts Gbagbo's government in serious jeopardy.

Regardless of the correlation/causality debate, 50% of the politicians on Oafrica's list have either been thrown out of power or have dealt with career-threatening crises in the past four months. While it may not compare with Anne Hathaway's mysterious power over Warren Buffet, it is still quite impressive.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here.

Add New Comment

1 Comments

  • Andrew Byers

    I am glad you mentioned correlation and causation. Seems here the explanation is simple - African leaders that have more Facebook friends have more Internet access in their home countries. More internet access equals more news, opinions, and free press. More free press access shines the light on corrupt leaders. Shining light on corrupt leaders means they lose their jobs, which are often highly dependent on image.

    Maybe the Harvard study follows this trail of thought? I did not see it mentioned in your discussion. You titles indicates that having "friends" is the reason, when in reality its simply having internet access.