Social media possesses immense power as it serves as a platform for disseminating misinformation and sharing genuine perspectives on global matters. In contexts where military rule is enforced, individuals often encounter censorship, restrictions on freedom of speech, and journalists face unprecedented threats. Accurate and concise information is critical in decision-making and risk mitigation.
Political climate and foreign affairs interests in Mali have shifted drastically over the past few years, with a coup in 2021 that paused democratic rule and a military government that has sought closer ties with Russia, pushed France to the margins, and strained the country’s relationship with international organizations like the United Nations and the African Union.
To better understand sources of information in the country, Premise launched a survey asking Malians about their personal choices regarding media consumption. Using a method of convenience sampling,we received 800 survey responses coming from all ten regions of the country and the capital district of Bamako.
In February 2023, “our data showed that even with all the political changes, 72% of respondents believed Mali was moving in the right direction, and 79% were supportive of military rule”. In light of this popular support for the military rule and a growing dislike for certain foreign powers, multiple international news outlets and foreign stakeholders have questioned the reliability of information being provided to people living in Mali.
When asked about preferred sources of information, social media, television, and online news outlets emerged as clear winners, while newspapers and radio came out at the bottom. In a multiple choice question, we asked our Contributors to select all the various activities they undertook in the past four weeks to access news and information. Almost all (97%) said they used social media in the past four weeks, 54% watched television, 50.8% visited online news websites or other apps, 36% listened to the radio, 20% read a newspaper, and 5.4% say they did none of the above in that timeframe.
To learn more about the specific social media platforms, online websites, and television stations people looked to for news, our respondents were provided a list and asked to select all those they used. Amongst social media platforms, Facebook and WhatsApp were the most popular choices, with over 80% of respondents stating they used both platforms. TikTok and YouTube were next in line with ~45% of respondents using both. We also asked why respondents used social media to get their news and the top reasons included the ease of understanding and entertainment value.
When asked about preferred television channels, Mali’s state run broadcaster ORTM (Office de radiodiffusion et de télévision du Mali) emerged as the top choice, with 94.5% of respondents saying they watch it for news. Renouveau television was second (68.9%), TM2 was third (51.2%), and Africable television followed closely behind (46.7%).
Lastly, for online websites or apps, ORTM is also clearly a top choice, with 72.9% of respondents using it. Other top choices included Maliactu (59.7%), Malijet (59.3%), and MaliWeb (49.1%).
These self-reported rankings of which platforms are most frequented in search of news can give us a lot of insight into how information is spread and how our Malian respondents choose to spend their time. We also sought more granularity with our data collection and asked our respondents for screenshots of their phone screen time reports. This allowed us to see how much time each respondent spends on an app in a given day or week. In line with the high ranking of social media as news sources, platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Facebook Lite (a smaller version designed to use less data and take up less storage space), Telegram, and TikTok were commonly found at the top of our respondent’s screen time usage.
These findings underscore the power and influence of social media, capable of disseminating both accurate information and misinformation. The reliance on unregulated social media platforms and state-controlled media outlets raises concerns about the objectivity and reliability of the information accessible to the Malian population. Promoting critical thinking skills is crucial to ensure a well-informed society, enabling individuals to discern between credible and non-credible sources.