The Digital Memorial of @kabetes (Jacob Juma)
The impact of the news of Jacob Juma’s death was tremendous. The story was a featured headline on all of Kenya’s media houses properties on print and online as well as regional and international media. But nowhere was the magnitude of Jacob Juma’s death more evident than on Kenya’s Twitter universe. ‘Jacob Juma’ became a trending topic at 7am on 6th May, 2016.
This moment is a key insight in terms of revealing how digitally attuned Kenyans consume media today. Digital has become an intricate part of our wake-up routine. Our phones have become the first thing we reach for the second we wake up.
According to recent Twitter data, 59% of Kenyan Twitter users log on to the platform after waking up.
In a sense, the news of Jacob Juma’s death was the first experience a majority of Kenyans on Twitter woke up to on that fateful day.
In the period between 6th to 9th of May, our Dive Analytics tool managed to gather 40,029 tweets to do with the term ‘Jacob Juma’ and 2,848 tweets to do with the term ‘kabetes’. (In comparison, ‘Jacob Juma’ garnered three times more tweets than those generated around Chase Bank Kenya’s collapse.)
The shock of Juma’s death was clearly apparent, with almost 75% of the “Jacob Juma’ tweets collected occurring on the day he died.
Jacob Juma was a highly controversial figure, and he extensively used Twitter to express his opinions about government and leak sensitive information on matters like the Eurobond saga. Before his death, sentiment towards him fell into three main categories;
Sentiments towards kabetes and his content always seemed to reflect the personality, political stands and also tribes of the Kenyans who read his updates. Given a majority of his updates used to be highly politicised content, kabetes often created a divide among his audience. The separation of political stands in Kenya between government supporters and the opposition is very distinct, with a very minuscule middle ground. Simply put, you were either with or against kabetes.
However, immediately after Jacob Juma’s untimely death, our analysis reveals that the general conversation and sentiment around kabetes changed. His death created an atmosphere of widespread sadness on Twitter. Within the first few hours of Kenyans receiving news of his death, a look at mentions of Jacob Juma shows a digital memorial spreading across social media.
Many Kenyans in the twitterverse mourned him, with several changing their usernames to RIP Jacob Juma (or similar phrases) and others changing their profile pictures to images of him.
This reaction brings out the extent to which mourning has evolved in the digital age. People today directly mourn and show their support for those afflicted by loss by hitting ‘like’ and ‘RT’ buttons. This provides them with a sense of community, connecting them to the person they lost and those mourning alongside them.
Mourning online allows us to stake our claim on the effect of a tragedy — even one that might not be directly related to us.
However, our analysis shows that the sadness phase of his mourning quickly morphed into anger and curiosity, as Kenyans begun to question the circumstances of his death and the parties responsible. The government rapidly emerged as a prime suspect, mainly due to scathing tweets by Juma himself about plots to murder him, and his general digital battles against the government over the years.
His tweets exposing details of who wanted him dead were pointedly blatant, in classic kabetes fashion.
Kenyans on Twitter were quick to recall these tweets and, immediately started referring to them and naming individuals previously named by Juma himself.
In the midst of all this, who were people listening to?
Our analysis shows that as the rumors, questions and supposed answers quickly spread through Twitter, regular user accounts and the media emerged as the conversation drivers and influencers. The prevalence of social media and instant messaging platforms today has meant people are now getting a significant percentage of their news from these platforms. However, on social media, traditionally authoritative news sources are now wrestling for position with users’ friends. Previous research we’ve done shows that people are more likely to trust information that comes from people they know and on social media today, this largely means your friends and relatives.
We should bear in mind the intent of people when posting on social media during a tragedy. In the context of a tragedy, people will go online to fill information gaps as well as express their thoughts and emotions. Another reason is that people often race to share celebrity death (real or rumoured) in a constant contest of one-upmanship. Social media feeds into our desire to be the source of breaking information, and in some way death becomes about wanting to prove that we are in the know and that we too were affected by the loss. We know that content with high emotional arousal gets more resonance amongst audiences and this kind of content is more likely to come from regular users than media accounts. The higher number of retweets for regular user accounts is testament to this fact.
Despite a lot of tweets and sentiment being directly addressed to them, the government remained quiet on the matter.
The Political Battlefield
The political nature of Jacob Juma’s death was undeniable and Kenyans were quick to associate his death with various individuals in both the government and opposition. This was a testament to both Jacob Juma’s politics-centered rhetoric over time and also Kenyans’ general penchant for finding a political angle to almost any topic.
In Kenya, unlike many other countries, the prevalent celebrities are not entertainers, musicians or actors - they are our politicians and the ubiquitous political discourse is our celebrity gossip.
It therefore follows that the biggest influencers in Kenya’s online space are those who often talk about politics and governance. This is clearly evident from the total amount of tweets generated by Juma’s death. The man’s demise generated 3 times more conversation in 3 days than the collapse of a bank did in a week.
Juma’s passing and digital memorial speedily became a political playground with Kenyans drawing lines and picking sides. His death still looms large over the political context in the country right now. Juma’s death not only served to bring conversations about freedom of speech and expression to the foreground but also provided a fresh battle ground for opposition versus government supporters. Heavy suspicion of guilt around Jacob Juma’s death was largely pointed at the government by many Kenyans and opposition leaders quickly picked up this tune.
Under normal circumstances, the sentiment towards government is generally low. Previous research has shown that, much like offline sentiment, it is very rare for government to have a positive sentiment score. Our analysis shows that whereas the government would have a sentiment of -0.2, the government now had a sentiment score of -0.4. This means that the government’s approval ratings amongst Kenyans on Twitter on this specific day was lower than usual.
From our analysis of the digital conversation immediately after Jacob Juma’s death, the data shows that CORD, the opposition party, garnered significantly more mentions than Jubilee, the ruling party. The most mentioned terms for the opposition party were; ‘Raila’, ‘Wetangula’, ‘CORD’, ‘Kalonzo’, ‘Jirongo’ and ‘opposition’ respectively. On the side of the ruling party the key terms were: ‘Ruto’, ‘Uhuru’, ‘Jubilee’ and ‘government’ respectively.
The sentiment of terms to do with CORD was -0.2, with people commenting on CORD’s activities and statements in the wake of Juma’s death and echoing the sentiments of the opposition as to what the government should do with regard to Juma’s death. Statements bearing the term ‘CORD’ got 1.8 terms more retweets than those with the term ‘Jubilee’.
Our analysis presents a situation whereby tweets with the opposition’s rhetoric were resonating more with audiences than those involving the government’s rhetoric at this point. Moreover, tweets containing rhetoric to do with the government did not contain messaging favouring the government but against it. The government’s silence on the matter created a vast information vacuum. Meanwhile, the opposition was heavily vocal about the issue and by virtue of being the only political entity talking at the time, they automatically came out on top.
On May 9, the fourth day after Juma’s death, the hashtag #kabeteswasnosaint emerged on Twitter. The hashtag became a trending topic at 9.47am. The rise of the hashtag served as a banner under which government/Jubilee supporters self-organised on Twitter to defend the government and also supposedly poke the saintly image that Jacob Juma had gained since his passing.
There was widespread suspicion that the hashtag was sponsored by government machinery and this revelation fuelled the conversation around the hashtag even more. Under this hashtag, Jubilee got significantly more mentions than the opposition and a slightly higher sentiment score (-0.38) compared to tweets under the ‘Jacob Juma’ term. This was mainly due to the Jubilee supporters coming out to defend the ruling party.
However, the overall sentiment tone again worked against the ruling party. There was widespread negativity emanating from suspicions that the government was tarnishing Juma’s name so soon after his recent death. Tribal overtones also became a recurrent theme under this hashtag.
If this hashtag was indeed sponsored by the government machinery, the strategy backfired. It only served to refresh the very raw wound of Jacob Juma’s death and as such, the government/Jubilee came off more guilty and sunk even lower in the public’s perception.
As much as Jacob Juma/kabetes makes for a fascinating topic of study, we are soberly aware of the fact that this is also about the life and death of a man, a father, a husband and a Kenyan. Love him or hate him, no one can argue with Jacob Juma’s impact in Kenya’s online space. He made his mark and to eulogize the enigma that was kabetes, we leave you with this map of his digital heartbeat, his indelible mark that forever lives on. #RIPKabetes
View the interactive data visualization HERE (best viewed on desktop)
Visit http://www.jj.odipodev.com/ for the full experience.
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This study was conducted by the Odipo Dev team using our social intelligence platform, Dive Analytics. With Dive, you are able to make your social data work for you through iterative data analysis and insight sessions with our social data team. We help organisations build better relationships with their target audiences across all media platforms.
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