Zimbabwe's 2013 elections on Twitter: Twimbos are Tweeting (and how you can join them)

Social media has influence. This is because it has the ability to join up the voices of thousands of people talking about a common topic. It's hard to ignore thousands of people saying the same thing and it is hard to ignore thousands of people when they use a tool, like Twitter, as a means to network towards common objectives.

This means that when national events come around – like the Zimbabwean elections – you will see the mainstream media turning its attention to social media websites. A number of articles have already appeared in newspapers, discussing the power of the social media and the potential influence it has on politics in Zimbabwe so far.

Twitter is easy to use. This summary guide is to help bust confusing unhelpful 'techie' jargon and give you some insight into what Twitter is, how to use it, and what it can do.

We hope Zimbabweans will feel encouraged to set-up a Twitter account and start tweeting.

Ask yourself: how many times have you gone into elections, and arrived at a polling station to confront injustice and wished that an election observer was there to take notice? Or wished you knew a journalist you could share information with about an outrage you were told while buying your groceries?

If you use Twitter then you can send a tweet and thousands will know instantly. Journalists worth their salt follow Twitter and many maintain their own Twitter accounts.

This is what you need to know.

Getting to grips with 'Twitter'

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a website. That's it, pure and simple. It is described as a 'social media' type of website but really, it is just a website. It is a very effective website that offers a simple but very powerful way for people to communicate on common topics.


Twitter is 'secure' – everything sent to twitter is encrypted as a default setting. When you submit a tweet, no one can eavesdrop or intercept your message en route to twitter. They can of course, read what you're saying by visiting your twitter account. But some people – including Zanu PF supporters – choose to anonymise their identities to add an extra layer of security over their conversations.

You can check security by seeing the https in the address bar (as opposed to http).

Private twitter accounts

Twitter accounts are, by default, public. This means everyone visiting your account page can see what you're saying whether they are a member of Twitter or not. But you can set your account page to a private status (what Twitter refers to as 'Protected Tweets') and select who you will let see your tweets. This is useful if the only reason you want an account is to communicate privately with close contacts – but that's not the real power of Twitter. There's more on the difference between the two accounts at this link: https://support.twitter.com/articles/14016-about-public-and-protected-tweets

How to create an account

Visit https://twitter.com/ and sign up for an account, its free and very straightforward to do, but you do need access to the internet and an email address. Just follow the instructions online.

Jargon busting terms

Here is a brief guide through some off-putting jargon. There is nothing mysterious about Twitter, so don't feel that everyone knows how to do something that is completely out of your reach or understanding.

Social media

Describes websites that allow people to join up and network and communicate. Twitter is one example, but there are many many more. Facebook is another very well known social media website.


Twitter is the name of a social media website that allows people who join up to share short messages of no more than 140 characters at a time.


This is what Twitter calls the short messages people submit on Twitter. When someone says 'I'll tweet you', they mean they will send you a short message on twitter, in the same way 'I'll sms you' means I'll send you a text message to your phone.

The '@' symbol

The '@' symbol precedes your user name on Twitter. When you create a Twitter account you choose a user name – this is the name that will be publically assigned to your messages. If someone wants to send you a tweet, they would send it to your chosen name preceded by the 'a' symbol. For example, Sokwanele's username on Twitter is sokwanele, and to receive messages people would tweet to @sokwanele. We would ask people to follow us on twitter @sokwanele.


Zimbabweans are referred to as 'Zimbos', so, you guessed it, tweeting Zimbabweans are referred to as 'Twimbos'. It can be amusing, or it can be irritating, but Twitter users mangle words to clearly associate them with twitter, often simply by incorporating the 'tw'. For example an 'Actwivist' is an activist on twitter, or someone who uses twitter for activism.


This is what you do when you see a tweet that you like and want to share it with everyone who follows you: you re-tweet it. It is effectively the same thing as forwarding a message you come across to all your twitter contacts.


Aaaah … followers … these are people who find your tweets interesting and want to keep tabs on what you are saying. People 'follow' your account page. This means that when they log in they can instantly see what you've been saying. Note though that if your account is set to private then you are likely to have few followers because no-one will be able to see your tweets.


These are the people that YOU find interesting and have chosen to follow so you can keep up to date with what they are saying. This is a very useful way to keep track of conversations and discussions about things that interest you. People tweet about EVERYTHING on twitter, so you can forge links on almost any interest you can think of (including Zimbabwe's election). We give you some tips on how to find people to follow a bit later in this guide.


You may see the letters DM appearing from time to time. This means 'Direct Message'. If two people are linked, i.e. one follows the other and vice versa, then it is possible for them to 'DM' each other – i.e. to send private direct messages between themselves. Note that direct messages are also encrypted on Twitter.

Using hash-tags (e.g. #zimbabwe)

The hash-tag – # – is a way to consolidate all the tweets around a topic. For example, #zimbabwe joins up all the tweets from everyone on twitter – whether you follow them or not – on the topic of Zimbabwe. It is users themselves who decide when and how to use hash-tags, so it is up to you, when you write your tweet to add a suitable hash-tag and join a conversation. A popular Zimbabwean hash-tag on Twitter is #263chat. This consolidates tweets from people who are wanting to chat about Zimbabwe. As elections loom, the hash-tags that are consolidating everything being said about the elections include #zimelection, #zimelections, #zimelection2013 and #zimdecides


Twitter lists are under-used but are a very useful feature. Twitter allows you to create up to 20 lists to organise interesting accounts by topical area. You can create your own list (they can be public or private), or you can subscribe to the public lists that others have created and maintain. Sokwanele maintains two public lists, which we will tell you about later.

Getting started

How to find people to follow

When you create an account, twitter will suggest followers to you. You can choose to follow these or not. And remember, you can always 'unfollow' someone if you decide you don't want to read their tweets anymore. To follow Sokwanele, type in @sokwanele in the search bar, click on our account, and follow us (thank you!). Twitter will then provide more suggestions for people you can follow that are similar to @sokwanele.

Look at who other people follow

When you're on Sokwanele's twitter page, look at who we follow and who else follows us. You may spot accounts there that you want to follow too.

Subscribe to interesting lists

Lists are collections of tweets organised by people on Twitter. If you subscribe to someone's list you can instantly keep up to date with tweets usually organised thematically or topically.

Look at who has been included on particular lists

Explore the lists that people maintain and pick and choose who you want to follow within the lists. For example, Sokwanele maintains two lists: 'Zimbabwe – Politics' is a list of all the Zimbabwean politicians and parties we've found on twitter, and 'Zimbabwe – CSOs' is the same for Zimbabwean NGOs or organisations with a specific interest in Zimbabwe. If for example you want to only read the tweets from the party of your choice, you can browse through our list to find relevant people and links.

Start tweeting

What to tweet about. That's up to you. But remember when you tweet to use hash tags to help people find your tweets and to join conversation streams already taking place. We hope Zimbabweans will grasp the nettle and sign up to twitter and share their election experiences – good and bad. If you do tweet about the elections, please use one or more of these hash-tags to ensure everyone reads your tweets: #zimelections, #zimelections2013, #zimelection, #zimdecides.

So, how do you tweet?

By now you've created an account, followed a few people, know what you want to say and have a hash-tag in mind to use. You can start tweeting in a range of ways, but two of the easiest ways are as follows.

Online, directly via Twitter: There's a button on the far right of your twitter account that looks like a pen quill. Click on that to open a little message box, type your tweet. Twitter will warn you when you've added too many characters and your message is too long. You can add a photo if you want. When you have finished, click 'Tweet'. That's it.

Via your smart phone: Depending on the kind of phone you have, download and install a Twitter app and sign into your brand new Twitter account. You can now send messages directly from your phone.

Twitter sounds absurd

Almost everyone we know started out on Twitter thinking 'How on earth can 140 characters communicate anything'. SMS junkies do not need to be persuaded of the value of short messages, and neither will you when you see streams of updates about the elections racing past. And you will be very surprised to realise that the Twitter community often knows what's going on ahead of the media. It is fast and furious and the range of information provided by messages, images and links all over the place is impressive.

How can I take part without an account?

You can't take part without setting up a Twitter account, but you can passively read tweets all over the place. For example, Sokwanele will be streaming live tweets about the elections via our election hub page. If you needs a bit of convincing on whether Twitter is interesting or not, visit http://www.sokwanele.com/zimbabwe-elections/2013 and watch the conversation for a while to see how it all works.

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