AFCON 2017: Social media is changing how Africans talk about football

January 16, 2017

African Cup of Nations 2017 is now underway in Gabon and judging by the last two days online activities, it is clear social media is altering how Africans discuss the continent’s most popular sport. A cursory look on Twitter just hours after AFCON 2017 opening matches reveals a dialogue between friends, opposing fans, friends and organisations that might invigorate critique. While this might not be an explosion of activism on the scale of, say, the Arab spring that swept dictators in North Africa, it may still generate social change, confronting the dominant ways of thinking about masculinity and football.I have long noted the potential for online spaces like twitter to be used to mobilise change. While some of the comments on Twitter may only reinforce traditional norms, Africans can all learn from the intersections between popular culture and citizen activism. As AFCON matches continue, it is clear bloggers, tweeters and other social media users are acting as self designated media who want to share content, concerns and comments in the spirit of addressing their views. Social media provides football fans across the continent an opportunity for them to learn about African Cup of Nations outside of formal institutions, and to think differently about what is status quo. It is social media that has provided the platform for fans to post pictures of empty seats in Gabon and question the low attendance at certain games, constructing a different narrative about its status as a spectator sport. It is new brave Africa of contemporary football watching where goalposts have moved. Watching African Cup of Nations game has become increasingly active for those who wish it so. The television, is still pre eminent, but being quickly outgunned by a relatively new phenomenon that has emerged in Africa to complement traditional viewership commonly referred to as second screen normally a smartphone, a computer or tablet that allow interaction and engagement in addition to regular viewing.

Broadcasters like South Africa’s DSTV which own popular Supersport channels are also starting to supply content in multiple ways. Such services allow viewers to access exclusive content or content complementary to the main broadcast program. No doubt the advent of second screen football watching by DSTV has created further traffic for the dominant social media networking services since AFCON 2017 began two days ago. The rise of social football viewing is not limited to those watching AFCON 2017 in the comfort of their living rooms. Gabon’s modern stadia are fitted out with technology that aims to transform the fan experience.In the future AFCON editions, better WiFi in stadia will also enable fan engagement through social media and through innovative applications.It remains to be seen post AFCON 2017 what kind of new media legacy will emerge and what kind of stories will be told that highlight and challenge pervasive challenges that are being exposed by social media about the tournament in Gabon. It’s worth noting that social media can lead to interactions where one’s own views and experiences are simply validated. As others argue, public protests and attempts to mobilise can always be lost in the constant news stream. What is clear at this juncture about ongoing African Cup of Nations in Gabon is that these are complex processes between online and offline media. How governing bodies, such as CAF, and the mainstream media interact with citizen media will play crucial role in any cultural change. Social media can’t change things on its own.In conclusion, while African countries are yet to see high uptake of second screen viewing on the same scale as that experienced in Europe and North America, there’s little doubt in my mind the African passion for football and social media will continue to be linked in the future. That won’t be as competitors at the ongoing African Cup of Nations 2017, of course, but as teammates.

Contador Harrison