Just before I drop anything on this column, I want to reveal that I got 90 percent of political information, sensitization and education via the social media especially during the 2015 elections. The two major political parties during the 2015 general elections made optimum use of social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter to pass across their parties’ information. As matter of fact, even the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) used Facebook and Twitter to convey information before, during and after the 2015 elections.
It seems there has been a paradigm shift from the dependence on mainstream media like Television, Radio and Newspaper to the use of social media forum in disseminating information. The reasons are not farfetched. Apart from the fact that, it is relatively cheaper, information stand a chance of reaching larger audience. The use of social media to stimulate prospective voters didn’t start in 2015. It was just very much pronounced during this period due to that fact that it took some time before Nigeria embraced the Information Communication Technology world.
In 2008, President Obama’s victory to become the president of the United States of America was digitally driven with integrated Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus into his campaign strategies and has continued to connect with the constituents on social media well, after winning the elections. This was also experienced in India 2014 elections where social media were pivotal in the sweeping victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Social Media have rapidly grown in importance as fora for political activism in their different forms.
According to Mike Wagner, a journalism Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison: “Candidates are spending more time trying to go viral – they’re spending more time trying to get people to share stuff on Facebook or retweet a candidate’s messages on Twitter.” As the number of people online steadily rises from election to election, candidates decided to take advantage of the conversations they could create there.
The use of social media in today’s campaigns is not only important, it is critical. The political campaigns done via these social networks have helped the politicians to connect with their voters. The likes of Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai became more popular via his Twitter handle even before the elections. The Kaduna state governor not only tweets regularly but also responds to questions by his followers and also retweets other relevant post. This to a large extent endeared him to social media users. Ben Murray Bruce, South-south Senator also used the Twitter as a social media to voice his opinion and expectation from the national assembly. The same goes for Lagos state Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
Most of what happens on social media from brands and political campaigns are not conversations, as they aren’t creating a back-and-forth dialogue with voters, but simply hoping the messaging will get the voters to vote in a certain way. Reactions, feedback, conversations and debates are generated online as well as support and participation for offline events. Information circulate so swiftly to the extent that, someone in Abuja can know the results of elections in Lagos even before it gets to INEC collation centre. In fact, it can be said that social media contributed to the transparency and fair nature of the 2015 elections. As the social media continue to make wave especially during elections, what is left for Nigerians now is to make use of it judiciously and ensure they don’t violate electoral laws in the process.