The information ecosystem in DRC is fragmented and fragile. It is characterised by a great number of media outlets, however their level of professionalism is low and their vulnerability to partisan capture is high. This fragility is replicated in the online space. To better address those challenges, it is necessary to understand the main sources and dynamics of information flows both offline and online, and through media and non-media channels. A consortium composed of Fondation Hirondelle (FH), Demos, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) and the Institut Congolais de Recherche en Développement et Etudes Stratégiques (ICREDES) was created in order to provide a more holistic view of the Congolese information ecosystem and to identify opportunities for entry. This study was produced in 2018/2019. You can download the full report by clicking on the link above, and read the executive summary below.
The Congolese population rely heavily on informal sources of information such as word of mouth, interpersonal communication with family and friends. The scarcity of reliable information open avenues for the rumours and misinformation to spread. This context presents serious challenges for the promotion of good governance and accountability that requires well informed citizens.
Due to the limited time and resources of the study, and because of the pre-existing networks and capacities of the consortium in this region, its focus is on North Kivu. To identify the voices, networks and themes that dominated this information ecosystem in this region, three levels of analysis were chosen:
1. The sources and level of information of the local populations. This analysis was provided by HHI that implemented household surveys of large samples of populations in Eastern DRC;
2. The sources of information of local journalists. This analysis was provided by FH that surveyed a network of 18 local radios in North Kivu;
3. The network and content analysis of digital and social media provided by DEMOS.
Each level of analysis was studied through three case studies referring to distinct contexts:
- two covering a political theme (Kabila’s announcement on August 8, 2018 and presidential elections on December 30, 2018); and,
- the third on the Ebola epidemic declared on August 1, 2018.
The results are based on nearly 14'000 interviews conducted in the field by HHI teams, 50 in-depths online interviews of 18 local radio stations representatives across North Kivu, and on more than 650,000 tweets
and 80’00 messages on WhatsApp analysed by Demos. ICREDES contributed in better contextualizing the findings.
- Radio is the primary media source of information for the population of Eastern DRC (78% of the sample listens to it occasionally and 43% daily), followed by TV (31% occasionally) and written press (19% occasionally). Access to online resources is limited (26% occasionally and 8% daily).
- The main sources of information depend on the context and the nature of the information people are seeking. For national politically-oriented topics, national and local radios are the most used. For Ebola, participants rely more on close family and friends.
- Trust issues and misinformation are widespread. The level of belief in Ebola speculation is higher where knowledge of the epidemic is also highest. The results highlight the lack of reliability of information sources (46% of respondents expressed a moderate to high level of confidence in local radio, and 39% for national radio).
- There is significant gender differentiation in the access to information. Access to media resources and the level of trust in the media is characterized by gender inequality. Women are 4 less likely than men to rely on radio as a source of information, reflecting their less frequent use of this medium. Women are also more likely to believe Ebola speculation than men.
- Local radio stations are mainly informed through local, national and international radio stations, followed by social media.
- The source of information selected by local journalists depends on the scope of the issue. For Ebola (local issue), the most widely used media were local radio stations, while for the presidential elections (national issue) they were firstly national radio stations.
- Respondent local journalists agree on reference radios at the national and international level (Radio Okapi, Top Congo, RFI). Our data did not allow for identification of major reference radios at the local level.
- Social networks are largely used by local journalists as sources of information (much more than the rest of the local population that has limited access to social media). The most used social network is Facebook, followed by Twitter. The use of social networks is characterized by a great diversity in the pages or profiles consulted, all subjects combined.
- Facebook is the most widely used social network by the population of the DRC, followed by Twitter to a lesser extent. WhatsApp is the most widely used online messaging service.
- The nature and scope of online activity vary according to the social media used. The most shared sites and opinion on WhatsApp are more local in scope than the ones shared via Twitter. Data also indicate that WhatsApp is rather used by the community at the local level for information about daily processes.
- Social media plays an important role in spreading false rumours. A significant proportion of the twitter posts analysed mentioned rumours, conspiracy theories or misinformation. On WhatsApp groups, the mixture of information, opinions, rumours and misinformation makes it difficult to distinguish between facts and fiction.
- At the local level: invest further resources in the mapping and monitoring of local radios to identify a core group of influential and reliable local radios to a) communicate directly with the local population including through dedicated messages and programs on governance and accountability issues, and b) to strengthen the general capacity of local journalists to seek, verify and share – offline and online - reliable news and programs of balanced dialogue around root causes of rumours and core grievances.
- At the national level: Radio Okapi stands out as a major source of information - both online and offline - for local journalists. In the context of the strategic review of the MONUSCO, advocate for and support the design of an adequate transition strategy to maintain Radio Okapi’s function as national public service broadcaster beyond the MONUSCO mandate.
- Support the capacity of local civil society organisations and journalists to map and monitor influential digital personalities - political tweeters, journalists, bloggers, and other users likely to be useful to engage with on governance and accountability issues – and support a core group of CSOs and journalists with trainings and tools to help them recognise and counter misinformation that circulates through social media platforms.
- Support the integration of media and information literacy in education programs for the wider population.