The dozens of deaths that marred the recent Nigerian elections would be considered shocking by the standards of most developed nations. Compared to past elections, however, the violence this time around was limited, and many observers say social media and technology such as biometric card readers played a big role in minimizing conflict. Online services are credited with keeping people informed during the runup to the elections, promoting the feeling they could communicate and express their views without resorting to violence, and other technology helped to ensure cheating would be kept to a minimum. Nigeria’s experience suggests that tech can play a role in reducing election-related violence in other countries.
The presidential and parliamentary elections were the most peaceful in Nigeria since the nation embraced democracy in 1999. The winner of the presidential election, former military leader Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, will officially take over from incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, of the People’s Democratic Party, at the end of May. It’s the first time a sitting Nigerian president has lost a bid for re-election.
“I do believe that the capacity for social media to connect and inform helped Nigeria conduct a free and fair election and helped to keep violence to a minimum,” said Michael Best, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, via email. With Thomas Smyth from Sassafras Tech Collective, a worker-owned tech co-op in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Best published a qualitative dual case study, “Tweet to Trust: Social Media and Elections in West Africa,” about social media use during the general elections in Nigeria and Liberia in 2011.