Twitter and The Collapse of Chase Bank: Nothing is Contagious Like Panic and Fear

April 4, Nairobi, Kenya; it started like any other infection starts; small, silent, indiscreet and harmless by all looks of it. A few hushed rumours in the maelstrom that is the Twittersphere. Nothing too spectacular, just another day in the psychological workings of the Internet. But unlike other rumours, this one was not going away. It was not going to resign to the forgotten backyard of the Internet so easily.

It crept along the web, gradually picking up steam and leaving a murky maze of emotion in its trail. Some were curious, some scared. Some were bullish about the possibility, and others furious that people could spread such irresponsible garbage. But unbeknownst to any of them, they were helping the infection grow. Because, this is what the infection does best. It feeds on fear, panic, uncertainty and above all, it collects bodies. In the next 48 hours, the infection had morphed into a formidable contagion that entered through the eye, hijacked cells in the retina and gained access to the brain. Once there, it burrowed through webs of neurons to it’s deepest, most ancient regions, beyond the realm of consciousness, and wreaked havoc in a fashion only this infection could. By the time, we we turned our attention to it, it was beyond salvation. We were officially in a crisis.

This is the story of Twitter and the collapse of Chase Bank Kenya. An intriguing tale of untrustworthy bankers, shaky regulatory systems, inadequate PR handlers, and a scared, under-informed public. We at Odipo Dev, using our Dive Analytics tool and team have over the past week done an expansive study into this crisis and sought what insights could be derived from it. We analysed all the tweets that were generated over the period of 3rd to 10th April, 2016 and endeavoured to put it all into context.

In Numbers: The Chase Bank Collapse

The Smoke Signals

Digital misinformation on a massive scale has become so pervasive on social media to the extent that it has been listed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as one of the main threats to our society.

Source: World Economic Forum

Information online rarely exists in a vacuum. It is most often part of a larger and more complex ecosystem, with many interconnected factors. It’s therefore very difficult to fully map the processes involved in the rapid spread of misinformation or to identify where this information originates.

This is the complex web that our team sought to untangle. When you are dealing with social media, you are dealing with big data. In the case of Twitter, you are dealing with 1 billion tweets produced every two days.

In order to properly process this colossal amount of data and derive actionable insights we have to apply intelligent analysis tools and combine this with human evaluation to put information into context.

Our Dive Analytics dashboard proved to be an indispensable tool in this process. Moreover, we endeavoured to look beyond the specific medium and consider the political-cultural setting in which misinformation spreads and is interpreted.

1st — 4th April: Can You Smell That?

The story of Chase Bank on Twitter began on 31st March, 2016 when the bank released the first version of their 2015 earnings, reflecting a Kshs.792 million loss compared to KShs.2.3 billion profit reported in 2014.

This in itself was quite a shocking revelation, but interestingly enough, it did not receive significant commentary/emotion on Twitter. It even generated a bit of humour.

However, this bit of news served as the very initial kindling in the form of this tweet by @JJSeno two days later.

The tweet was seemingly a praise of the new Central Bank governor, Patrick Njoroge for the rapid reforms he was implementing in the banking sector and the implications the reforms were having on shaky banks. The Chase bank reference was derived from the recently released financial statements for the year 2015, indicating a steep loss from a traditionally profitable company.

From our analysis, there were a total of 198 tweets on Chase Bank Kenya from 3th to 4th April, 2016. The main theme of these tweets was uncertainty. The public was getting wind of the rumours but they were not yet ready to panic. To understand this reaction, a little bit of context is important.

Chase Bank Kenya has been in operation in Kenya for 20 years. Over this period it has managed to grow into a corporate titan that is recognised as one of the best employers in Kenya and a trusted brand that cares about its customers. It has made significant investments into the SME sector and has impacted many small businesses which form the majority of businesses in Kenya. In addition, the lender had just raised a Kshs.5 billion lending facility on 30th March, 2016 from AfDB to boost its operation and lending capacity. This was in addition to Kshs.4.8 billion in bonds the lender raised in June 2015, due in June 2022 as part of a 10 billion-shilling Medium-Term Note Program. In July 2015, Global Credit Ratings, a Johannesburg-based company, assigned Chase Bank an A-(KE) rating with a stable outlook. Chase Bank Kenya, despite its recent gloomy financial results, was by all past and recent indicators, a strong institution headed in the right direction.

What transpired over the next 24 hours was a fascinating sequence of events that saw the fall of a sound brand and company from its ivory tower. The online rumours refused to go away, and the bank bungled its public standing by not taking charge of a rapidly deteriorating situation.

5th April: I Think Something Is On Fire…

The early stages of the Chase Bank debacle presented a clear case of how information competes and diffuses during crises.

Our research shows that during crises two currents of information often compete with one another. On one hand, you’ll have an expression of fear/panic which can often lead to mass hysteria and on the other you have containment and reassurance.

One factor that largely affects, and often settles this issue is which side the truth falls on. In most cases of misinformation online, the self correcting nature of the Internet comes into play and the crisis literally resolves itself.

This push and pull of antagonists vs. protagonists is what we witnessed on 5th April, 2016 in the case of Chase Bank.

From our analysis of the tweets going out on the 5th, one thing was apparent: There was a glaring absence of communication from the parties involved i.e Chase Bank, CBK, Governor Njoroge. From the 2nd to 5th April, our analysis shows that there was a total of 960 tweets about Chase Bank and of all these, none was by Chase Bank or CBK directly addressing this quickly bubbling issue.

The only communication from Chase Bank on the 5th of April was in response to direct questions from users. This was almost insignificant considering the 762 tweets generated on 5th April alone regarding the issue.

However, the public was seemingly not convinced, and some even went as far as advising the bank on what to do, giving predictions that, in hindsight, turned out to be quite accurate.

Given that there was barely any response by Chase Bank between the 2nd and the 5th, the uncertainty created by this void led to a narrative gap which #KOT only saw fit to fill in by themselves. The longer CBK and Chase Bank took to respond, the more the tide of social media and word of mouth worked against them.

The public often has trouble differentiating between the story of “we think we might have a problem” and “we know we have a problem” and therefore won’t suspend judgement awaiting official responses via TV, traditional media or radio.

The public will look for alternative sources of information when there is a deficiency in their regular ones. This, we believe, is where official entities lie at a disadvantage. While they struggle to present unsensational and straightforward non-alarmist content, the public is rapidly spreading highly emotional content that is mostly rooted in fear, and a desire to make immediate sense of what is going on. Framing and speed are key areas where the narrative owners failed in this crisis.

The Wildfire

Source: Nautilus

Our analysis revealed that there were 979 tweets with photos, 4,871 links and 7,874 plain tweets. The plain tweets garnered 6 times more retweets on average than tweets with photos and 3 times more than tweets with links. This numbers speak to the rapid pace at which the crisis spiralled. More importantly,

Our research has shown that ‘fear-rich’ tweets, trigger retweets twice as fast, on average, than neutral posts or posts conveying other emotions such as happiness.

Social psychologists have long suspected that fear-induced stress is at the root of mass hysteria. When we hear or read about a threat, our bodies respond to it as if it were real before our conscious minds can evaluate its truth. And because we feel threatened, we’re more likely to believe that we are, and to share our fears with others. Fear mongering works, in other words, not because we’re especially gullible or misinformed, but because stress is especially contagious. Our analysis of reactions by Kenyans on Twitter has further confirmed this hypothesis.

6th April: D-Day

On the 6th of April at 8:15 am, Chase Bank begun trending on Twitter.

The morning hours of 6th April were a pivotal moment in this crisis. The inflection point had been surpassed and uncertainty had grown into fear. The public wanted to believe Chase Bank was not going down, but more and more, they were being given reasons to believe otherwise. To this point, no official statement had been made by Chase Bank or CBK. We were approaching mass hysteria and there was no one to stop it. Away from Twitter, cautious customers begun making mass withdrawals from the bank.

Usually, in massive misinformation situations online, we would expect data, facts and figures to come from influencers and regular users, quelling the rumours and calming the public. This phenomenon is called ‘The Wikipedia Effect’. The Internet creates misinformation but the Internet also self-resolves over time. This is what makes the Chase Bank case so unique; whereas usually, we would expect the correct facts and data to come from the associated parties quelling the rumours to calm the public, the exact opposite happened here. Since the rumours turned out to be true, the ‘opposing’ side is the one that had all the facts. There was no need for correction, the misinformation was the real information.

We were experiencing an inverse ‘Wikipedia Effect’.

On Wednesday, 6th April 2016 Chase Bank re-published their financial results for the year 2015. The new results bore a huge difference on the level of loans to insiders, who include directors and employees. Compared to the results published six days earlier, the loans to insiders had swollen to more than KShs.13.7 billion. More than KShs.8 billion had been understated in the previous report. The latest results received a qualified opinion from auditors Deloitte & Touche. As soon as the news of this went out, anxious depositors rushed to withdraw their money from Chase Bank.

So what happens when rumours/misinformation turn out to be the actual truth? Pandemonium happens. The public bays for blood but once their cause is justified, they absolutely run riot.

The first official statement from Chase Bank on Twitter came on 6th April at 1.13pm. At this point, it was too little, too late. Moreover, the statement itself was very vague in nature and did not address the pertinent issues that were causing fear and panic. The public was not convinced.

At 2.47pm, Chase Bank sent out their second official statement of the day on Twitter announcing that Chairman Zafrullah Khan and Managing Director Duncan Kabui have stepped aside from their positions following the release of the company’s 2015 earnings.

The public’s reaction to this news at this point in the crisis was easily predictable.

Information that the bank was going under had gone viral, and tellers at Chase Bank were overwhelmed by panic withdrawals. Several branches ran out of cash, ATMs were out of commission, and efforts to fight the rumours via the bank’s social media accounts seemed to exacerbate an already fiery situation.

By the end of Wednesday, 2,087 tweets had gone out about Chase Bank. Thousands of customers had withdrawn their money, leaving the bank’s vaults literally empty. In that move, the bank had simply run out of resources to satisfy the daily cash requirements as prescribed by the CBK.

7th April: Walking Among The Ashes

On the morning of 7th April, the Central Bank of Kenya ordered Chase Bank to be closed. CBK placed Chase Bank Kenya Ltd under receivership for 12 months to protect depositors, creditors and the public.

“Chase Bank Ltd experienced liquidity difficulties following inaccurate social media reports and the departure of two directors and was not able to meet its financial obligations on April 6”, the Central Bank said in a statement on its website.

The Lessons

Kenyans and Crisis: How Do We Manage?

Pre-Collapse

As we have indicated, the period from the 2nd to the 5th of April, was filled with significant amounts of uncertainty. There was a massive information gap that was not being filled by any authoritative sources. This begs the question: When in doubt, and more so in a crisis, where do people turn to?

Part of the problem in answering this question is the piecemeal way in which people now gather their news.

The prevalence of social media today has meant people are now getting a growing percentage of their news on social platforms, where authoritative sources are jockeying for position with friends and relatives.

Research has shown that people are more likely to trust information that comes from people they know. When your friends say something to you, it’s not just the information itself, it’s the fact that “Oh, he’s my friend and I trust him. Therefore I trust the piece of information.”

On social media, almost anyone can come off as an authority, especially in the circles/networks in which they are already influential. When dealing with a crisis online, these are the dynamics that brand owners have to compete against.

Traditionally authoritative sources i.e media, government and brands, are jostling for position and superiority with friends and relatives. Despite this challenge, we still recommend that crisis owners still actively address issues in good time as they arise. Information, be it true or false, now spreads faster than ever, especially on social media. Brands have to adapt and nurture a capacity to be able to operate with speed and efficiency while leveraging data and analytics.

Post-Collapse

The Chase Bank collapse was a unique kind of crisis. Despite, the recent somewhat similar collapse of Imperial Bank, Chase Bank’s collapse was more grand. It was a bigger bank, with more reach in terms of branches and customers, the majority of which were small to medium-sized businesses and their owners. The impact of this collapse was genuinely felt by Kenyans and how they chose to deal with the aftermath is a fascinating insight.

Our analysis identified that tweets containing facts, critique and humour about the crisis spread 104 times more than those that were trying to contain the fear.
Humor/Resignation
Post-mortem
Anger/Frustration
Critique

This presents a different debacle, as those who were trying to ask for confirmation from actual sources were the ones who got overshadowed. This could either represent the extent of the self-correcting nature of Twitter, or the idea that wrong information could spread at any time. But one thing is clear,

False information spreads just as well as accurate information on social media.

The By-Standers

A by-product of the Chase Bank crisis was that other banks and players in the financial sector operating in Kenya were dragged into the conversation. The public expressed their opinions and sentiments towards several institutions.

The spill-over conversation involving other brands that was witnessed in this crisis is a key insight for brand owners in terms of crisis. Just because your brand is not at the centre of the crisis, does not mean it might not be brought into it. Brand alertness at all times is imperative.

After Chase Bank, What is The Public’s Sentiment Towards The Banking Sector in Kenya?

Faith in the banking industry in Kenya has generally gone down. Our analysis into the sentiment of tweets around the banking sector shows the score to be at a measly 0.2, meaning that tweets directed towards banks are generally negative. The public’s trust in the banking sector is at an all time low. Three banks have collapsed in just over 9 months and Kenyans are worried. The Chase Bank collapse was in a lot of ways not just about Chase Bank alone, but a further justification for general distrust towards the banking system by Kenyans.

Moreover, our analysis also reveals that the wounds of the collapses of Dubai Bank and Imperial Bank are still fresh in Kenyans’ minds. The quick succession of the fairly recent collapses were refreshed by this latest crisis.

Was The CBK Right to Blame Twitter for The Chase Bank Collapse?

No. Based on our analysis and evaluation, the CBK needs to look beyond the medium and understand the specific context in which panic and rumours spread. Rumours and information online are simply that; rumours and information. That said, there are certain conditions that allow these rumours to arise, and that is what they really need to focus on. This time, it was a case of letting a spark blossom unchecked into a full blown digital wildfire. If Twitter led to Chase Bank collapsing, it is only because Chase Bank let it happen.

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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.

Follow us on Twitter at @Odipodev for more updates.