This just in: I have been doing Twitter horribly wrong. There is a backstreet Twitter where you can pay an ‘influencer’ to tarnish your competitor’s name or disparage someone whose nose you don’t like. In that dark corner of the Kenyan Twittersphere where I have not bothered to venture, there are also brokers that can then mediate between the slandered victim and said influencer to arrange ‘terms of engagement’ that will make them ‘walk away’ from the manufactured scandal. If the price is right, they will delete all tweets and commit never to talk about the brand or individual forever.
Strange as this tale may sound, it is all unravelled in the past few weeks. First, a barrage of tweets appeared from user Cyprian Nyakundi under the hashtag #BidcoExposed. He, and whatever number of bots or fake accounts he owns, accused the manufacturer and its CEO Vimal Shah of land-grabbing in Kalangala, a remote poor region of Uganda, “exploitation and other inhuman activities.” Over several days, the young gentlemen channelled his inner Jicho Pevu with 140-character dispatches of Bidco’s alleged errant ways, wrote lengthy blog posts with documents and generally had a field day with the story.
Bigwigs with no influence
Nyakundi is what a clueless section of Twitter calls a bigwig, for his pseudo-influence and relatively high number of followers. Within an impressionable circle of college students, Twitter newbies and other wannabes, their word holds some ground. A true bigwig in real life – someone who’s influence exists of independent of Twitter – such as Bharat Thakrar has only 11,000 followers compared to Nyakundi’s over 600,000. Thakrar is the founder and CEO of Scangroup, truly one of the most powerful men in Kenya and also the most understated. Nyakundi is most famous for getting expelled from Meru University “tarnishing the university image through the use of social media.” Safaricom has sued him for defamation and obtained an injunction, leaving the hapless blogger to attempt raising legal fees through – where else? – Twitter.
Dear brands, number of followers does not equal influence. And influence is mostly topical, not general.
— CN ® (@crazynairobian) August 13, 2015
Enter another ‘influencer’ and self-proclaimed “trendsetter” Xtian Dela née Arthur Mandela. Approached by Bidco to counter Nyakundi’s tirade, he offered to negotiate with the son of Keroka to delete his tweets and blogs, as if you can ever delete something from the internet. Nyakundi asked for Sh50 million, according to an audio tape leaked to the gossip blog Ghafla! Xtian talks him down to Sh15-20million and he promises to ‘walk away’ from the whole thing. The recorded conversation is between the middlemen Xtian and an unidentified Bidco representative. We now know it was Bidco’s Head of Corporate Communications and Public Relations Pharis Kimaru. They get Nyakundi on phone and he expressly agrees to scrub the internet of his Bidco expose and never mention it or Vimal again if he gets his oily paycheque.
I know Xtian because he’s been a guest panellist on my show twice, both times invited by my producers to talk about trending topics. He put me on the spot on air the last time for not having his number. “I don’t need your number because my producers do,” I shot back. We didn’t invite him back. He, Nyakundi and two dozen other ‘bigwigs’ make a living off being ‘social media influencers’ who can get their legions of followers to talk about a brand or campaign or whatever. They wield their e-power with immense pomposity taking on targets at random and eviscerating them online. I am a regular recipient of this cyber bullying, perhaps because I pay them no mind and have never been one to worry what anybody thought about me.
Doing Twitter wrong
It occurred to me that I may have been under-utilizing my over 1 million cumulative followers on Twitter and Facebook. I have always assumed that influence was the ability to call up someone important and get something done, or never needing to introduce yourself in most situations. I was wrong, of course. The new currency of influence is getting paid Sh8,000 to trash a company or an individual far more successful than you will ever be. Influence is then demanding Sh50 million to take the aforementioned graffiti off the internet. To whom much is given, much is expected, but the Bible was written centuries before Twitter. To whom many followers are bestowed, little is expected. These high priests of internet popularity live for the retweet, for the next ‘follow train’ and for constant validation from ‘smallwigs’ with 137 followers who wish to be them.
Nyakundi was paid 8k to tarnish #Bidco but be asking for 50M via phone to pull down an article..he's a tuktuk with Range Rover expectations
— Jahmo (@Jamlick1) August 13, 2015
Why didn’t Bidco bring this taped evidence of extortion before a judge? After all, both the firm and Ugandan government have ‘strongly refute[d] allegations of land grabbing in Kalangala,’ saying it did not acquire any land there. Even though it proves that Nyakundi and Xtian Dela are less than honest in their dealings, the firm is guilty of entrapment and the audio would not be admissible in a court of law. But in the court of public opinion, it is fair game. It is a brave new world.
An edited version of this piece appeared in my Daily Nation #FrontRow column today.