The Use Of Social Media In Political Mobilization During The 2019 General Election In Nigeria
Over the past decade, the role of social and digital media (web 2.0) has been amplified to becoming a veritable tool in enhancing social change and political engagement since, the Obama election campaigns of 2008 and 2012 as well as the Arab spring that spread through North Africa. Indeed, communication on media has always been central to democracy and its institutions. Scholars like Garrett (2006), Castells (2012), Morozov (2015, 2012), Bennett and Segerberg (2012), and Bosch (2017) in the fields of media, political science and information communication have emphasized how social media has helped in social and political movements; facilitating and promoting democratisation, reinforcing social change and commitments from governments.
The emergence of the Internet as the new mass medium of the 21st century now changes the mass media substantially. Information can be distributed at high speed, low cost, and broad scope and as a result, there is egalitarian access to the production and the consumption of news (Prat and Strömberg, 2015).
The Nigerian 2019 general elections was a significant departure from the norm in Nigerian political history. It was the first time that a ruling party was voted out of power. It was also the first time that more than three biggest Nigerian opposition parties, and a faction of the fourth came together and successfully formed a single political party (merger) in order to unseat an incumbent government, People’s Democratic Party, PDP. The winner of 2019 presidential elections, the All Progressives Congress, APC, was a merger (in February 2013) of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) – and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). So also the first time a peaceful and mature transition occurred, where an incumbent president accepted defeat and bowed out.
While any of the factors listed above, and many more, may claim sole credit for the unique success of the 2019 general elections, the reality is a combination of various factors, one of which is the openness and transparency that digital technology made possible. The social media was used in an unprecedented fashion to publicize, advocate, and post information online as political and electoral events unfold. Both the politicians and the electorate used social media extensively to further their goals. It is therefore more accurate to say, the tactical strategy from opposition politicians to use all means, including the internet to ensure a defeat of the incumbent administration on the one side, as well as the determination of the electorate to use whatever channel is available including the social media to make sure their votes count in the 2019 general elections was much more pronounced than in any election before it.
The recent election of Muhammadu Buhari as president of Nigeria has been hailed internationally as a historic transfer of power for Africa’s most populous nation with social media playing greater role or influenced the fairness of the election. Social media with all their flaws had the power of immediacy. They are also very participatory. In an election where you have citizens who are participating, they were also providing the news and information surrounding the elections. It was an empowerment of people through their votes, and also through their ability to disseminate information. That is not to say that traditional media didn’t play a role. But the social media role was central. The world is becoming increasingly connected via the power of the Internet; Facebook launched internet.org an initiative to gain even the most remote parts of society access to the World Wide Web. Political movements have begun to see social media as a major organizing and recruiting tool and the reverse can be said for society. Social media (done right) gives you all this because it’s inherently a two-way communication system. Rather than getting brand messages, you get recommendations from friends in the form of re-shares and recommended posts, which de-commercializes the brand message.
Social media is that space, the many tools helping to amplify the voices of average Nigerians, taking ordinary voice sand making them extraordinary by bringing them to homes, offices, and places most of them would have probably never reached under different circumstances. It started out as a playground for mostly young jobless people. Today, it has become the battle ground of what would arguably be the most competitive election in Nigeria‘s history.
The advent of internet and technology has exposed majority of the global population to different interactive platforms on which different kind of information is exchanged which might significantly have effect on human behavior, decision and judgment (CES,2012). Social media are new information network and information technology using a form of communication utilizing interactive and user-produced content, and interpersonal relationships are created and maintained.
According to Eugene, 2019. The popularity of getting political news from social media platforms is greatly increasing. A 2014 study showed that 62% of web users turn to Facebook to find political news. This social phenomenon allows for political information, true or not, spreading quickly and easily among peer networks. Furthermore, social media sites are now encouraging political involvement by uniting like-minded people, reminding users to vote in elections, and analyzing users’ political affiliation data to find cultural similarities and differences. As social media gains more popularity and scope, its impact on voters‘ political and cultural perceptions cannot be underestimated as social media practically influences the way users interact, communicate and make decisions on social, cultural, and political issues in today‘s world.
The social media has become a powerful medium which may affect voting behavior because of its potential to provide direct and cheap access to the production and consumption of current information at any part of the world without editorial filtering (Sunstein, 2001). Not only do social media provide information about political affiliations, candidates and their party manifestoes, it also provides a platform through which voters across cultural divides can relate and interact with themselves on issues about these candidates. Social media can help taint the reputation of political figures fairly quickly with information that may or may not be true. Information spreads like wildfire and before a politician can even get an opportunity to address the information, either to confirm, deny, or explain, the public has already formed an opinion about the politician based on that information. However, when conducted on purpose, the spread of information on social media for political means can help campaigns immensely. Open forums online have also been the root of negative and positive effects in the political sphere. Some politicians have made the mistake of using open forums to try and reach a broader audience and thus more potential voters. What they forgot to account for was that the forums would be open to everyone, including those in opposition. Having no control the comments being posted, negative included, has been damaging for some with unfortunate oversight. Additionally, a constraint of social media as a tool for public political discourse is that if oppressive governments recognize the ability social media has to cause change.
Nearly every political party in the country used social media to campaign and advance its plans, message and manifestos to supporters including advertising, mobilization and organizing in all the states of the federation, and even fundraising. Facebook, YouTube and especially Twitter were used to let voters know how each party or particular candidate felt about important national issues ranging from security to power. Hence social media became powerful enough to influence voter decisions and choices as many voters who had fixed their minds and conscience on voting a particular party or candidate began to change their minds based on certain information or idea they got online about the party or candidate. Information gotten by a particular voter was also not static, as the same voter would use several internet tools and buttons to broadcast same message to other voters like him through medium such as blogs, Facebook, Nairaland, chat rooms etc. in order to influence them.
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