By Afedzi Abdullah

With the advent of Covid-19 and its impact on every aspect of human life, the political season has not been spared. Amid restrictions on large gatherings, political parties in Ghana have had no option but to move their campaigns from the usual mass rallies and offline canvassing channels to online and traditional media channels.

This trend in campaigning is not without challenges as stakeholders including the election monitoring body (Ghana’s Electoral Commission) and civil society have the difficult task of keeping track of negative developments from political parties and their candidates on social media.

It is against this backdrop that Penplusbytes, a non-profit organisation driving change through innovation, has developed a media tracking system, the All Media Tracking Centre (AMTC), to help monitor and track negative developments of the 2020 general elections.

The AMTC is an advanced version of the Social Media Tracking Centre (SMTC), deployed by Penplusbytes in the 2016 elections to monitor and respond to real-time reports emanating from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and traditional news.

With funding from the Star Ghana Foundation, this project is set to promote inclusive, peaceful, transparent and credible elections in Ghana and support effective and efficient information and knowledge exchange among relevant election stakeholders.

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The technology, “Tipahya”, (a Dagbani word which translates as “we are part”) is a software developed by Penplusbytes. Tipahya is able to present trends in chats and tweets grouped around the themes of the condition and state of voting logistics, election-related violence, political party behaviours and utterances and voting day challenges. The AMTC algorithm helps the team of around 50 volunteers and staff of Penplusbytes, to identify what is trending and to quickly detect possible election irregularities or instances of violence that warrant further attention; these reports are then categorised as incidents.

Incidents of possible election irregularities, voting fraud, violence, etc were monitored by the centre during the elections and communicated to the National Security Task Force, the electoral commission and election observer groups among others.

For example, where issues such as a lack of materials at a particular polling station, leading to long queues emerges; Penplusbytes will pass the information on to the electoral commission for action in deploying or replacing the material.

Through rapid citizen feedback, gathered through social media as well as reports from traditional media, problems that may trigger security incidents will be quickly reported and hopefully resolved, contributing to a peaceful election.

In running the AMTC, the volunteers, some of whom are software developers, techies and students, will work 72 hours in 12-hour shifts. They will work in four different teams: social media monitors, supervisors, verifiers and data analysts. This cycle will be repeated until the final results are announced and continued in the event of a re-run of the elections.

According to the executive director of Penplusbytes and the AMTC Project lead, Juliet Amoah, the concept of deploying a social media tracking centre or its scaled-up version, an all-media tracking centre was not new to the organisation.

“During 2012 and 2016 elections, Penplusbytes deployed the same initiative, which made the most concrete impact in Ghana experiencing a peaceful election as well as ensuring citizens’ voices around the elections were heard leading to ownership of the process and general acceptance of the final election outcome,” she said.

“The security forces and the international observer groups all acknowledged our contribution and it is documented in various post-election reports both in Ghana and elsewhere,” she added.

She said the real-time data capturing ability of the centre would allow for up-to-the-moment reports to be distributed to relevant stakeholders including — the National Elections Security Task Force, Ghana Police, The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, the electoral commission, Ghana Journalist Association, West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, and the National Peace Council — of incidents taking place in different areas around the country at any one time.

“The technology will also store data for an in-depth post-election analysis of the various media platforms,” she added.

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Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab



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