SUSPENSION: Twitter swelling revenue proves Nigeria right

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Twitter revenue surpasses expectations; Nigerians are losing billions. Something’s out of whack.

Elijah Olusegun

President Muhammadu has suspended Twitter operation for over 60 days—for a third of the platform’s second quarter in 2021. That’s long enough to make a huge hole in the Twitters profit.

Not yet.

Twitter has, rather, been having a roll: it raked in $1.2bn in the second quarter—higher than expectations.

Which somehow indicates one of two things: Nigeria is inconsequential to Twitter’s bottom line, in spite of the new-fangled multitrillion-naira Twitter economy analysts and internet rights algorithms are trying to create; or Twitter owner Jack Dorsey is missing Nigeria, and his platform is vulnerable after all.

Figures of Twitters gains and Nigeria’s losses have been tumbling out since the social media platform released its second quarter result late July. The way the enthusiasts ham things up is there-in-your face: as though the $1.2 billion were the highest revenue any social media operating in Nigeria could make.

Not at all.

Facebook had $29.1billion in revenue, and $10 billion in profit. U- Tube had $7 billion in revenue. Twitter ranked the lowest on both levels: $1.2 billion, $66 million respectively.

Squared with others, Twitter’s performance becomes clearer considering it places at the bottom of the pile. It remains the least of the social media platforms playing in the big league—behind Facebook, 2.9 billion; U-Tube, 2.3 billion;  Whatsapp, 2 billion; Instagram, 1.4 billion; WeChat, 1.2 billion; and 10 others, in that order.

So Twitter isn’t the choicest among the platforms, for whatever purpose, business or social. Only 206 million of its 397 million users are even monetizable, the report stated.

What about Twitter user base, country-wise? Nigeria, with its 3.3 million users, according to Statistica, didn’t rank among the first 20 countries, even months before the suspension. Facebook has 31 million Nigerians users, ranking 18th of the top 20 users, by country.

There are rigged figures claiming otherwise, though. Some, like NOI Poll, say between 39 million and 40 million Nigerians are on Twitter. Wrong. Africa Check has flagged the pollster’s methodologies and conclusion.

Netblockscost has its own figure, too, of loss, calculated by the hour.

Currently, the Internet freedom watchdog says Nigeria loses $5.6 million (N2 billion)—being cost of economic impact—every hour Twitter remains suspended. Some sections of the media estimated the loss in the region of N150 billion in 61 days on August 5.

How?

Netblocks doesn’t state its methodology for arriving at this figure. And the explanation it gave sounded more like technobabble when the National Daily sought clarification from the UK-based organization.

“The estimate produced is a loss on the order of $180 million USD to Nigeria’s economy in the space of one month stemming from the Twitter ban,” Alp Toker, who responded to the National Daily email enquiry, said.

If the suspension lasts a year, it means Nigeria will lose N1.1 trillion. That is almost three times Lagos IGR of over N400 billion in 2020—just for pulling the plug on Twitter only.

According to Toker, this figure estimate has nothing to do with Twitter itself.

In other words, the platform alone, all along, had been a responsible global corporate supporting Nigeria’s economy. Nothing was in it for Dorsey and his investors.

And no one ever bothers to work out what Nigeria gained while Twitter was live online.

So Nigeria alone, indeed, is the loser!

“[The loss figure represents] the larger amount which is the opportunity cost to the public and to businesses, and to investor confidence and knock-on effects to dependent industries,” Toker added.

Lots of guesswork there.

Nigeria’s investor confidence went into free fall since September 2020 while Twitter was accessible—until April. It bounced to 3.36 index point in June. Even if investors lose confidence again, insecurity gets the bad rap for it. Blaming Twitter suspension seems contrived.

The National Daily pressed further for the figures—or data sources—Netblocks crunched to arrive at those losses in terms of opportunity cost to the public and businesses, investor confidence, and the knock-on effects to dependent industries.

Netblocks has yet to respond.

It lists on its website a number of tools, including Brooking Institution method relying on development index, and approximated digital economy extent. The most relevant seems the third tool: GDP impact from a nation-wide internet shutdown.

The world lost $2.4 billion to such shutdowns between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. The loss was based on the findings of three researchers.

Darrell M. West and others arrived at the figure by estimating daily Internet contribution to the GDP, multiplying it by the number of days the shutdown lasted in a country that blocked the Net, or apps, nationally or regionally. The Boston Consulting Group, whose estimate the researchers also relied on, estimated most developing countries’ Internet contribution to their GDPs at an average of 4 percent.

How much that equation applies to Nigeria suspending Twitter is not immediately clear. Certainly, Nigeria hasn’t shut down the Internet.

But Toker made it clear earlier the estimate includes projected (future) losses. And that has also been factored in in real time.

“This would hypothetically cover social media businesses that decide to incorporate in nearby countries to avoid the long-term risk of setting up in a country where social media may not be widely available in the future, for example.”

With this scenario, the number of the social media businesses and the values of their economic contributions can loom as big as the imagination of the Net loss analyst trying to strike a chord.

Cost-benefit analyses could spawn such decisions Netblocks imagines investors now make before heading into Nigeria. No doubt about that. But will it be exactly because Nigeria suspended only Twitter, of all the social media platforms operating in Nigeria?

The investors’ decision to go elsewhere, even in reality, has its own weakness. The preferred destinations Toker referred to are no big fans of Twitter. Ghana, where Twitter recently announced it hoped to set up shop, for instance, has about eight million social media users, just over 25 percent of Nigerians on Facebook alone. With 2.9 users, Twitter ranked 8th among the social media platforms Ghanaians use, as of 2020. Its size still makes it vulnerable to nightmares in that Shangri La it dreams of. Things are mostly not what they seem.  According to journalist Nana Ama Agyemang, Ghana’s press freedoms are fragile and not guaranteed.

For Nigeria, Netblocks, however, warned that the long-term multi-trillion-naira impacts of Twitter suspension are ‘less well’ figured out—by Netblocks’ AI, maybe.

“The COST platform’s estimates are modelled around disruptions of short duration on the order of hours or days as mentioned in the notes. As time passes, businesses may find alternatives or workarounds to mitigate losses.”

Nigerians, influencers and brand ambassadors, groaning under the burden of losses the Twitter suspension heaps on them have not been able to calibrate the pains in naira. Even media houses whose revenue streams include social media platforms aren’t forth coming on the losses.

A similar enquiry the National Daily sent to Hotels.ng got no response.

As far as economics goes, the market where Twitter and Nigeria interact is a two-way platform. A loss or a gain cuts both ways. In the months-long face-off between the two, Nigeria alone can’t sustain the losses—if there is any—while Twitter swells its own bottom line. As its quarterly report just proved, Twitter has never needed Nigeria. So why get hot and bothered about Nigeria losing for blocking the platform?

If anything, Dorsey’s political activism—which drives his platform, and earns it slaps (eight so far) around the world—has made one thing clear: Twitter has got a chink in its armor.

And Netblocks’ algorithm won’t detect that easily.

 

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