Opinion: Why there’s a need to win over social media in election campaigns

by Emmanuel Egobiambu

Nigeria Elections

The McArthur Research Network on youth and participatory politics, those who are politically involved online are twice more likely to vote than those who are not.

The advent of social media has reshaped the landscape of society, drastically. It has broken hitherto visible boundaries that existed among different people in diverse places and transformed every facet of life.  And with the growth of telephony services, the internet penetration level has greatly improved. As at October, 2014, there were 48 million internet users, according to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

With the general elections knocking on the door, and having discovered their potentials, political contestants have shifted the political battleground to the social media. Gone are the days when political campaigns were restricted to rallies, hoards of gigantic billboards and pamphlets, radio and television jingles. The increasing knowledge of the political gains accruable from the use of social media in political campaigns has lead many politicians to opening social media accounts. From Facebook, and Twitter, to Whatsapp, Instagram, Youtube, and Google+, the story is the same. From the presidential contestants to the House of Assembly candidates, it is no different ball game.

Available statistics show that President Goodluck Jonathan has 1.7 million fans on Facebook, General Buhari has 100, 000 fans on Facebook and about; APC Governorship candidate for Lagos state, Akin Ambode is currently having 118,000 fans on Facebook while his PDP counterpart, Jimi Agbaje has about 3, 600 fans on Facebook.

Many have argued that the reason for the mad rush to social media by politicians and parties to launder their image is because a significant portion of eligible electorates, the youths, have more access to them (social media).  According to a Singapore-based online portal, wearesocial.org, Nigeria has over six million Facebook users (majority of them youths).

Also, the McArthur Research Network on youth and participatory politics, those who are politically involved online are twice more likely to vote than those who are not. The social media are known to have the potential of creating and maintaining a good relationship between candidates and voters.  They have continued to collapse the wall between the political elites and the electorates; youths in any part of the country can connect with contestants.

For example, in 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan’s presence was felt in the social media, especially Facebook. He did not only create a page but went further by answering questions fielded by his fans. As the 2015 elections draw closer, his main rival, General Muhammadu Buhari, promised to take out time to read comments posted on his Facebook account, saying “I take note of every comment, suggestion and feedback you give me…”

With their connectivity, the social media can spread awareness of a political candidate like wild fire. Using the social media can be likened to a stone thrown into water, causing ripples in the water. For instance, one can share contents of his blog/website on his Facebook or Twitter page which in turn can be shared by friends or friends of friends, causing a web of connectivity.

This portends that once an individual posts anything on his social media account, he is likely to have a pool of people who would be reached because the social media is not restricted by boundaries/distance between the sender and receiver.

The connectivity of the social media ensures that contestants can mobilize electorates to vote for them. During the 2012 presidential elections in USA, reports noted that most eligible voters cast their vote for candidates, because a friend, brother or colleague told them via the social media. Certainly popular personalities, who have cult following can sway votes in favor of a candidate by publicly, supporting a candidate. For instance a blogger, who generates a lot of traffic to his blog, can declare his support for a candidate, thus influencing others.

Also, other stakeholders in the electoral process are tapping into the social media to.  In a retreat organized by the Democratic Governance and Development, at Uyo, Akwa-Ibom state, in December 2014, the Independent National Electorate Commission (INEC), restated its commitment to deepen its use Equally, some non-governmental organizations have a strong presence in the social media where they educate the teeming masses, notably the youths on the need to vote the right candidates, eschewing violence during the electioneering campaign.  The Save Nigeria Group has about 40, 000 fans on Facebook and also a website where it advocates for free and fair elections.

The advent of social and new media has no doubt made research about political happenings easier. The social media are a one–stop shop for verification of facts and figures. Unlike before when someone has to rummage through piles of books and newspapers in libraries, before doing any article/getting facts, the social media have made information available at the fingertips. Today, there are thousands of websites, blogs, Facebook pages, that provide qualitative information on political issues. The result is an enlightened electorate.

However, the social media say have given room to spread of false information as well as an avenue for spewing abusive words on perceived political opponents. A visit to social media accounts of political contenders would reveal the alarming rate of insults poured on, not just the contestants, but also on other users.

In many online discussion forums, throwing of tantrums at supporters of an opposition party is a regular feature. In fact, they have coined appendages for abusive supporters of a candidate like¬: “e-warrior”, “e-fighter”, “e-bully” etc. They throw “punches” and because the social media is shrouded in anonymity, they often do it with impunity.

Though traditional means of campaigning: radio, television, newspaper; are still in use, the increasing access to the internet, it now seems the social media is driving electioneering campaigns, to youths; 63% of the voting population.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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