Content Analytical Study of the Twitter Handle of Selected Celebrities As a Tool For Mobilizing #EndSARs Protesters

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Content Analytical Study of the Twitter Handle of Selected Celebrities As a Tool For Mobilizing #EndSARs Protesters

Chapter One/Introduction

This thesis analyzes a compilation of tweets from a specific digital social movement, #EndSARs. This campaign was an instance of hashtag activism to end police brutality that appeared on Twitter following series of mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria.The protests which takes its name from the slogan started in 2017 as a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #ENDSARS to demand the disbanding of the unit by the Nigerian government. After experiencing a revitalisation in October 2020 following more revelations of the abuses of the unit, mass demonstrations occurred throughout the major cities of Nigeria, accompanied by vociferous outrage on social media platforms.

Background to the Study

Social media platforms are a means for online socialization, as well as the ease of communication, particularly between individuals who are physically apart.  In bridging potential physical gaps, these digital spaces allow individuals to come together virtually to share information and discuss ideas. The primary requirement for participation in these spaces is Internet access via a computer or smartphone. The specific function and content of a conversation may vary – from a discussion of common interests or the expression of random thoughts to engagement in debate and, even, individual attempts to spark social change that, together, can resemble a social movement.

This thesis focuses attention on a specific instance of activist campaigning that took place on social media in order to present an understanding of how individual communicators, known thus forth as rhetors, can use the rhetoric of personal experience to politicize a conversation.  These platforms generally have a broad reach, and thus allow individuals from various backgrounds to meet in a common virtual space. Without the exclusion of physical rhetoric that occurs in face-to-face conversations, like facial expressions and gestures that can allow a person to better understand another’s message, discussions on social media platforms must rely largely on the written word and often involve users contributing personal narrative to clarify and justify a position within a larger conversation.

Twitter is a micro-blogging social media platform that allows users to express small blurbs of information to their followers; it is a broad social media platform that allows participants to share messages within an online community. At the time of my research, the site saw nearly 330 million active accounts publishing an average of 500 million tweets a day (Aslam, 2017). This form of social media is accessible to users through its website, www.Twitter.com, or smartphone app; its primary function is to allow users to express thoughts and ideas within an online community through a limited statement, known as a ‘tweet.’ Anyone may participate in this community of digital sharing as long as they open an account with Twitter using a legitimate email address and establish a selected username and password of the individual’s choice.

Tweets may be accompanied by photos or video, and they were initially limited to 140 characters in length. Twitter raised the limit to 280 characters in November of 2017, however this thesis focuses solely on tweets published in 2014 when the limit was restricted to 140 (Tsukayama, 2017). The use of limited characters per tweet often caused Twitter users to practice concision when delivering messages; they were forced to craft messages in the clearest and most efficient phrasing in order to get their meaning across.

Tweets are also often characterized by what is known as a ‘hashtag.’ This is a key word or phrase that allows a particular tweet to be part of a larger conversation on the platform and easily accessed by users, while also influencing its content. In order to use a hashtag, a user must tweet a certain word or phrase un-spaced and precede this with a number symbol (“#”). Individuals may use hashtags to join a conversation or to simply emphasize a message. Hashtags are helpful in categorizing large amounts of information on Twitter, so it is important to recognize that “public tweets from individual users containing a hashtagged phrase can be easily aggregated and retweeted, circulating messages to people outside of the original tweeter’s personal network and allowing for virality” (Boyd, et al., 2010).  In other words, tweets within a hashtag will now be linked to one-another, regardless of the user who originally tweeted them, so tweeting within a hashtag allows users to easily access related information expressed by other people. Additionally, the use of a hashtag allows participation from theoretically all members of a social media community within a single, larger conversation. Hashtag use thus creates the potential for users to develop an online community of likeminded individuals.

Communication practices on Twitter involve different conventions than other types of interactions. For instance, users have limited use of characters, forcing them to be succinct with their messages. Additionally, due to its micro-blogging nature, Twitter users typically share all sorts of information – ranging from daily observations to news items to random thoughts to political commentary. Thus, it is common for interactions to occur between individuals who do not know each other in the physical world. Such instances often involve one user responding to a specific tweet communicated by another, often entering a conversation with a reply that solely relates to the content of the conversation instead of giving any type of introduction prior to inserting oneself into an interaction. As Twitter is a broad platform, users are able to seamlessly join a conversation, particularly when tweets are being classified with a hashtag.

Users typically engage in communication that stands apart from normal everyday conversation and does not follow the conventions for standard interactions. Although users have the opportunity to participate in conversations with other users on the platform, and they often do so, the features of such interactions differ from communication that takes place through other channels. More standard interactions, such as face-to-face discussions or telephone conversations, typically follow various conversational rules. For instance, when encountering an old friend on the street, a person will usually communicate some sort of greeting, such as “hi” or “hello,” often followed by some iteration of “how are you?” Although such an exchange is common in the physical world, interactions on Twitter rarely occur in a similar manner with users often inserting commentary into a stranger’s conversation with little or no introduction.

Hashtag activism, or the use of a hashtag for some form of activism, has become increasingly common on social media platforms. The use of a hashtag to raise awareness of and combat various social issues has been particularly prevalent on Twitter.

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