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2019: As Candidates Battle On Social Media



The use of social media in politics including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube has dramatically changed the way campaigns are run and how candidates interact with their elected officials. ORJIME MOSES writes.

The political landscape has changed quite a bit in the last couple of decades. The internet has played a large role in this transformation. Social media including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, in particular, have played significant roles in political campaigns and have somewhat influenced people’s perception about issues.

One of the most important developments in election campaigns come 2019 is the advent of social media. It has primarily changed the way in which candidates and parties conduct their campaigns as well as changed the way in which citizens are exposed to political information.

That many Nigerians are deeply involved in the world of social media may be stating the obvious as it would be disastrous for politicians not to fully embrace this important information platform.

Election battles have now shifted to social media much less than it was at the big rally fronts. Many politicians have had to familiarise themselves with social media, make their presence felt and stay engaged positively with the electorates.

Many opinion polls are already going on twitter and several other platforms on who will be the next Nigerian President.

The interesting thing about the social media integration into elections is that it allows these elite candidates (politicians) to talk directly to the people, especially young people who make up the larger percentage of electorates in the country.

By having this ability, they can pass whatever message they want to all their followers very quickly. This also allows them to have complete control of their message.

It has been effective to mobilise a younger audience, and it keeps them aware of what is going on. On the other hand, social media allows non-elites to communicate. Before now, it was solely the responsibility of the press to talk to most people. With just a twitter account or a Facebook page, one can now go ahead and spread a message and talk to each other and get instant feedback on a large scale of issues.

The potential impact of social media campaigning first became evident in the 2008 United States (US) presidential election.

President Barack Obama’s campaign included the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Myspace and YouTube. Others included podcasting and mobile messaging for his campaign in both his first and second terms respectively.

Donald Trump also used Twitter heavily in his 2016 presidential campaign. “I like it because I can get also my point of view out there, and my point of view is very important to a lot of people that are looking at me,” he said.

In Nigeria, the use of social media as a potent political campaign tool manifested in the buildup to the 2015 general election. The All Progressives Congress (APC) and its then presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari had employed the social media campaign more than the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). APC’s social media campaign which appealed to the youths, effectively  tapped into a electoral base which was crucial to the outcome of that election.

Media Practitioner, Jide Taiwo, had captured the scenario at the time said while one of the factors that gave Buhari victory then was the increasing participation of young people in the 2015 elections, “Also how this participation mirrored what was being said on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.”

He added “Where hitherto older people had claimed that elections were not won on social media, the online interaction galvanised the resolve of those young people to get involved the more. In the words of IT consultant/ youth activists.

“So much so that President Buhari in his inaugural speech said “I thank those who tirelessly carried the campaign on the social media.” Needless to say, the higher percentage of social media users are young people,” he added.

Ahead of 2019 however, it would seem like the two leading candidates, APC’s Muhammadu Buhari and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, have been engaging in lots of social media battles for dominance.

Although some of the engagements by their teams and supporters have been acidic, purile and shallow, the candidates and their running mates (APC’s Yemi Osinbajo and PDP’s Peter Obi) have repeatedly used social media increasingly to either pass crucial pieces of information or address trending issues for or against themselves.

However, it would seem like Atiku’s decision to launch his campaign policy document on social media didnt just gave him some mileage but also reflected how much value he places on the social media ahead of 2019.

But beyond the two major candidates, other candidates, who do not have a large war chest and whose parties do not have as much national spread, have found in social media, a veritable way of breaching the gap between themselves and the electorates.

So far some of the candidates  that have been  quite visible on social media are Mr Donald Duke,  Social Democratic Party, (SDP); Mr Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Alliance for New Nigeria, (ANN); Mr. Omoyele Sowore, African Action Congress, (AAC); Mrs Obi Ezekwesili, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, (ACPN);

Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, African Democratic Congress, (ADC); Prof Kingsley Moghalu, Young Progressive Party, (YPP).

In spite of their parties not enjoying the kind of national spread that the APC and PDP have, these candidates are not relenting in making a strong presence on the social media.

But how effective will the social media be this time in influencing voter behavior and ultimately determining the outcome of the election?

Speaking on the development, a lecturer of Federal Polytechnic, Gboko Benue State, Mr Bem Joseph Targema, opines that most Nigerian politicians are now using social media for integrating active campaign into their arsenal in order not to miss the opportunity to connect with the millions of  internet users in Nigeria.

He underscored that the use of social media has made it faster for candidates to reach electorates or electorates to express their feelings to candidates faster.

“Believe it or not, social media has the potential of promoting and creating awareness for a candidate contesting election. This is due to the fact that millions of votes are on social media platforms thus a new media for political advertising. Therefore, it is advisable that a political candidate for any political election should have good handlers of the platforms. At the moment, Atiku Abubakar campaign organisation has demonstrated versatility in all ramifications,” he added.

In the same vein, a Masters Degree student at Benue State University, Terkula Aduku, added that candidates’ use of social media to connect to, and build rapport with Nigerians is more targeted, innovative and effective.

According to him, politics is all about connecting to the people, building rapport, and painting a mental picture of the future.

“I can call it a ‘mind’ game. The goal of an effective election campaign is to influence people’s perception and their decision. I see election campaign as marketing.”

He maintained that In today’s fast developing world where the use of technology and new media have taken a great shape in politics in Nigeria and globally has made political communication an easy phenomena.

“This is based on the fact that, political advertising and marketing have been brought to a level for both aspirants and electorates to ride on effectively. The cost of involving the mainstream mass media in the political process has simplified every thought and aspiration of the citizenry. What we have in Nigeria today just like any country of the world is what one would refer to  as “Online Democracy” where public opinion has gained a master place.

“With this, the social media, an advent of the new media has allowed equal participations for all parties to have a say on the programmed, manifestoes and policies of individual aspirants and their political parties.  We may say therefore that, the social media; Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and a host of many others have become a hope for the hopeless in the 21st century political communication process. It is therefore a call to everyone to ensure its effective utilization is in place for harmonious development of the political structure in Nigeria,” he said.

A Presidential Candidate under the platform of Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria (GDPN), Davidson Akhimien, said that he uses social media all the time to reach out to young Nigerians by highlighting them on his campaign promises.

Akhimien admitted his use of both Facebook book and LinkedIn for his campaigns, said he uses the platform to instantly connect with the average Nigerian suffering in the midst of plenty which leaders embezzle to build mansions abroad.

A social media enthusiast, Mr. Nicodemus Ibu, said that Facebook has a very large influence on political campaign as far as the new digital world is concerned.

“The social media can reach to the people even at the grassroots who can afford to have access to social media either Facebook, WHATSAPP, Instagram, and Twitter all at once.”

According to him, 22 percent of Facebook users comment on someone else’s post during a typical day and 20 percent comment on somebody’s photo. He said 44 percent of social media users say they update their status at least once a week, and among young people aged 18 to 22, that number rises to 73 percent.

He said “The frequent, personal interactivity demonstrated by this behavior creates an opportunity for candidates, non-profits, and advocacy groups to engage people and drive civic conversations.

“Facebook, Myspace, and other social networking tools make it possible to extend conversations virtually and reach large numbers of individuals, adding that the use of social media is appropriate for political campaigns.

Another social media enthusiast, Michael Michael Iorshe, said politicians are exploiting the realisation that social media has the potential to “changes the role of the average voter.”

He added “Social media-heavy campaigns offer access, feedback and engagement to all citizens — not just the ones who can afford it by donating to campaigns. And though campaigns still seek to fulfill the same basic goals and objectives, the rise in social media seems to ensure that those running for office are held to a higher and more stringent standard than representatives of the past.”

According to him, “It’s important to voters to have a sense of being inspired in what they were participating in.”

He added that many voters prioritise social media for its reliability. “Many say they are likely to rely more heavily on these types of political outreach and enjoy avoiding the “filter” of larger news networks,” he said, adding that the multiplication of social media platforms has promoted many candidates.

On her part, social media analysts, Mercy Bimba, said, “No longer does politics have to be an echo chamber where people of like-mindedness listen to one another, but digital technology enriches political conversation and engagement. People are exposed to more views than in the past. This enriches national dialogues and allows people to get the kind of information that helps them evaluate candidates and policy ideas.”