Social Media in Africa Symposium, University of Edinburgh, 26-27 April 2017

Inge Ligtvoet presented the paper ‘Information biographies: a proposal/method to discover the world beyond the hashtag’ (co-author Mirjam de Bruijn) at the Social Media in Africa Symposium at the University of Edinburgh on 26 April 2017. Read the abstract below:

Information biographies: a proposal/method to discover the world beyond the hashtag – Mirjam de Bruijn and Inge Ligtvoet (Leiden University)

Affordable smartphones and increased internet access are quickly altering the mediascape on the African continent. A recent survey conducted at the University of Nigeria in Enugu, shows that over 82% of the respondents owned at least one smartphone. In Chad the increase in access to smartphones is smaller, but nevertheless remarkable. The increasing appropriation of the internet and smartphones, and social media in particular, have arguably altered everyday praxis and social structure in African societies. In this paper we approach this phenomenon from a methodological perspective. We introduce the concept of information biographies: a method which allows us to get a comprehensive understanding of the use and impact of the social media beyond the hashtag in two ways. First, it gives room for deep ethnographical understanding of who (and what) is behind the social media post. Fieldwork on the continent, among the users of the social media will give insights into their specific use of social media and the why behind their posts. Contextualizing social media trends and posts in the everyday, offline, context of their users is crucial, as the online and offline are interrelated and should therefore not be regarded as separate spheres. Secondly, an information biography takes into consideration the personal history of the social media user and tries to understand it in the larger historical context of the society he is part of. Information biographies are introduced in this paper through examples from online data collection and ethnographical fieldwork in Chad and Nigeria.

For more information on the Social Media in Africa Symposium see the summary of some of the key themes discussed on the blog ‘Democracy in Africa’ and the Storify page documenting the (450+!) tweets that were generated from the event.