Virtual Campaigns; NRM Takes Contested Twitter Stronghold

20 November 2020

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The National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the National Unity Platform (NUP) have taken the social media platform Twitter by the horms, with the NRM having an edge over the recommended virtual campaigns that were recommended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Twitter currently houses about 350,000 Ugandans but is reputed for hosting a merge of youth and adults combined, who share different ideas and interact more regularly. A data study shows that users spend more time on Twitter than on other platforms like Facebook and Instagram where they have accounts, even with its small following. 

Downloaded and analyzed data shows over 12,000 tweets sent out using #SecuringYourFuture hashtag between Midday Wednesday, November 11th and Friday morning, November 13. This means that NRM enthusiasts were posting at least 6000 tweets per day. That hashtag, alongside #Sevolution and the keyword Robert Kyagulanyi have dominated the twitter trendlist over the past one month, something that the NRM Communications Director Moses Dombo attributes to their impeccable digital strategy. 

"We laid out a good strategy which has started yielding fruits. The party has both an internal mechanism but also is benefiting from hundreds of volunteers reaching out to the electorate via the new media" Dombo stated. 

On the NUP side, Publicist David Lewis Rubongoya argues that NUP is already a force to reckon with both online and offline, even without having a formal digital media strategy. 

"We  have deliberately not put up specific hashtags for their campaign letting the masses to lead the narrative. All our apporaches are centred around the people and letting them take the front. That's the governance we want to bring" he said. 

However, random checks by Uganda Radio Network (URN) reporters also revealed that the NRM communication and media team might be employing Twitter bots.  A bot is an agent that communicates more or less autonomously on social media, often with the task of influencing the social media users. At time bots given different algorithms to make regular engagements on a particular issue.

Using Botometer, a social media observatory tool created at Indiana University which can detect suspected bot accounts, URN reporters found out that five of the top ten accounts tweeting about NRM manifesto messages and events are suspected bot accounts. Botometer places the likelihood of the accounts in question to be bots above 72 percent.

But, when this fact was put to the communication team at NRM, they neither denied or accepted that this could be part of their on social media strategies saying that he cannot disclose the party tactics as he would be giving their opponents room for counter attack.