This article examines the agency and incentives that drive the activism of diasporic political influencers on “Facebook Malawi,” an online imagined political community. In their seminal work on “social media dissidents” and “social media self-made activists” in the Global South, Matsilele and Sharra demonstrate that social media activists engage with different strategies to initiate movements, mobilize citizens, and create their brands in strong opposition to authoritarian regimes which repositions them as freedom fighters in the eyes of the masses and enemies of the state. Correspondingly, we frame diasporic political influencers as actors aided by digital technologies who engage in “long-distance nationalism” on Facebook against authoritarianism in the homeland. We deploy a qualitative mixed methods approach to analyze Facebook data of two diasporic political influencers, Onjezani Kenani and Manes Winnie Hale, who gave informed consent to use their Facebook data generated in 2018 and 2021, a period preceding and following the 2019 Malawi tripartite elections. A thematic analysis of 250 Facebook posts and interview data with the two influencers illustrates how they exercise their agency in their quest for a vision of a better Malawi while navigating a complex and ambivalent web of online and offline threats, incentives, and interests. Implicated in the political communication and mobilization of the two are different strategies that include verbal inventiveness, trolling, and exposing. The article also shows how the concept of long-distance nationalism needs to be adapted in studying diasporic political influencers.
Nyangulu, Deborah & Albert Sharra. 2023. Agency and Incentives of Diasporic Political Influencers on Facebook Malawi. Social Media + Society 9(2). 205630512311779. https://doi.org/10.1177/20563051231177936