Elections And Social Media In Nigeria
Elections in Nigeria prior to 2011, were characterized by high level of propaganda, dissemination of fake and uncoordinated information, scarcity of airtime and space for citizen’s participation and other forms of traditional media fostered electoral prejudices. Electorates were at the mercy of the tradition media; Television, Radio, Newspaper, Magazines, etc. to interact with their candidates. The wide gap that existed between the electorates and the candidates denied them their rights to properly asses such candidates before the polls, and in the process, the average class often stayed away from elections, because they believe that their votes never count. With the advent of the social media, following the productive USA social media political usage experience, where the then Senator Barack Obama, successfully used the social media for online fundraising and support accumulation that won him the presidential position in 2008. Many nations and politicians across the globe have continued to embrace the platform to mobilise their citizens and candidates towards active participation in the political process. Nigeria had the first real test of social media use for political purpose during the 2011 General Elections. This study examines the experiment of social media use for political participation in Nigeria, using the 2015 Presidential elections as the case study of analysis. The study is anchored on Cybernetics or Communications Theory, and employed Data Content analysis in interpreting the findings of the study. The findings revealed that social media grossly influenced the 2015 presidential elections, it was pivotal in the dethroning of the political stereotype pervasive in the country before then; it introduced a paradigm shift on who constitutes the political power brokers, as social media users were discovered to be among the factors that influenced the results of the 2015 presidential elections. The research made some recommendations which included: (A) Establishment of social media regulating agencies in Nigeria to manage social media sites and online communities and (B) Social media oriented sensitizations to enable the percentage of Nigerian with little or no knowledge of its workability politically, to embrace and get more acquainted with it.
1.1 Background of the Study
Social media sites, applications and packages each targets a specific different audience, and uses different tools to allow people to share ideas, videos, photos, links and chats, and to form networks of people connected by common interests. The increasing number of social media users has attracted the attention of even the business sectors to the extent that they now include social media or internet advertising to their marketing plans, due to social media’s targeting capabilities and its less expensive nature unlike the mass media. The realization of the relevance of social media is not just limited to the commercial sector which sees it as an avenue for market expansion and sales promotion, but also to the political sector, whereby politicians employ it as a tool for political campaigns and policies dissemination, while the electorates use it as medium for political participation.
With millions joining the conversation from all over the country, social media sites are now effective way for politicians to reach their constituents. In the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, then Senator Barack Obama used social media to engage and empower his volunteers, raising millions of dollars online. His campaign was not the first to use the internet to engage and raise funds, but it was the first to do so with that level of success, and it is clear their work transferred into actual votes. Unlike the traditional media campaigns they are usually very expensive, investigations have shown social media to be a very cheap medium for reaching out to the electorates. It has grown to be a necessity in all forms of political campaigns, ensuring ease in the dissemination of information and maintaining of candidates-electorates relationship until the elections and even after. The successful outcome of implementation of the social media in U.S.A 2008 presidential election has engineered a kind of political social media revolution across the globe and this development has caused politicians from different parts of world, including Nigeria to borrow a leaf from America’s experience. Now social media campaign has become an integral attribute of modern day politics.
Democracy is widely acknowledged as the best form of government in most parts of the world today. Elections, which represent the most modern and universally accepted process through which individuals are chosen to represent a body or community in a larger entity or government is one of the cardinal features of democracy. This is so because in a democracy, the authority of the government derives from the consent of the governed. This is perhaps why democracy is commonly referred to as the government of the people by the people and for the people. Usually, a democratic election would characteristically be competitive, periodic, inclusive, definitive and free and fair. Nigeria’s democracy may be considered nascent when compared to the older democracies of the western world. Be that as it may, the 2011 general elections have gone down in the history of the country as one of the best elections in the last few years of uninterrupted civilian rule in the land. It was observed that one remarkable thing about the 2011 general elections was the adoption of social media, especially the Facebook by the politicians, the political parties and the electorates as a platform for political participation. The importance attached to social media in the 2011 general elections was better explained by President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to declare his intention to run for the highest political office in the land, on Facebook. Jonathan had on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 informed his 217,000 fans on the world’s most popular networking platform (Facebook) of his intent; 24 hours later, 4,000 more fans joined his page, and by the day of the election, on 16 April 2011, he had over half a million followers. His closest rivals – Alhaji Mohammed Buhari of the CPC, Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN and Alhaji Shakarau of the ANPP were also among those that made heavy presence on Facebook and other social media platforms. In addition to the approximately 3 million registered Nigerians on Facebook and 60,000 on Twitter, almost every institution involved in Nigeria’s elections conducted an aggressive social networking outreach, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political parties, candidates, media houses, civil society groups and even the police. Apart from the presidential candidates, many governorship aspirants, Senatorial and House of Assembly seat contenders from the various states of the federation also embarked on aggressive use of social media platforms especially the Facebook to disseminate their political messages, woo electorates and support groups towards the actualization of their goals. Before the advent of the new media, the older or conventional media – radio, television, newspapers, magazines, etc, ruled the world, and had directly or indirectly blocked popular participation in the electoral process. This is because there has always been scarcity of space and airtime given by the conventional media to the citizens to have their say in politics, governance and in the electoral process. Conventional media critics believe that voters were left with paid political propaganda containing only meaningless slogans, making them disinterested and cynical about politics. They argue that there is absence of serious debate in the conventional media that could make people to learn the substance of issues and policies proposals as well as related arguments, and that this disallows citizens from participating actively in political discourse. Meanwhile, social media is interactive, web-based media. They belong to the new genre of media that focus on social networking, allowing users to express themselves, interact with friends, share personal information, as well as publish their own views on the internet. The ubiquitous access of these online devices no doubt, has democratizing effects as they offer citizens opportunities for more fully engagement in the political process. Writing on this development, (Madueke et al 2015), in his paper Life in the Age of Self-Assembling message observes that: The value of the communication experience has undergone a sea-change; from the need to share it, to the need to share in it. Technology and social media in particular have brought power back to the people; with such technologies, established authorities are now undermined and users are now the experts. This implies that people can now consume media as wanted and needed rather than allowing media producers to schedule consumption time and content. A person can now communicate to anywhere from any place at any time. Again, using social media is less expensive than the outrageous political advertisements on the older media. The new media is flexible, accessible and affordable. They promote democratization of media, alter the meaning of geographic distance, and allow for increase in the volume and speed of communication. They are portable due to the mobile nature; they are interactive and open to all. Nigeria experimented the use of this technology for political discourse during the 2011 general elections. The platform gave voice to many Nigerian politicians and electorates alike to make their voice heard in the electoral process. With the successful implementation of the social media in the 2011 general elections, the stake of prominence of social media in Nigeria has drastically gone up, thus in this work interest is on exposing how the political parties of APC and PDP alongside their candidates, implemented the social media in their quests for the position of the President in the 2015 elections and on how such implementations impacted on the outcome of the elections for the position of the President.
1.2 Statement of the Research Problem
Among the qualities that can grant a candidate the advantage of emerging elected into a political office over his opponent have been identified to include the popularity of the candidate and that of his political party. And it is a well-known fact that among the means of gaining popularity as it relates to electioneering in Nigeria in particular, and the world in general, is through the efficacy of the electioneering campaigns; entailing the ability of the candidates involved to not only reach out to the electorates but as well their ability to remain in touch, making positive imprints on the mindsets of the electorates, up till the polling hour. Prior to Nigeria 2011 general elections, campaigns in the country, used to be limited to mainly face to face interactions and the usage of traditional media (print and electronic). Notwithstanding, it has come to general notice that such is no longer the case, since the experience of America during their 2008 presidential elections, there have been a paradigm shift in the rest parts of the world, shifting the over emphasis placed on mass media to a rapidly growing domineering influence of social media on electioneering processes. This latest development has raised lots of curiosity in Nigerians, especially the politicians whom seems to be eager to experiment whether or not the implementation of social media in their political quests can guarantee them success. Thus it is against this backdrop, that this research is directed towards assessing the roles of the social media in aiding the emergence of Gen. Muhammdu Buhari of APC as the winner of the presidential position against Dr. Goodluck E. Jonathan of PDP whom despite being the incumbent President, lost the poll. The pertinency of this research is to grant the researcher the ability to draw pragmatic conclusions on the place of social media in the contemporary political sector. This study is to investigate whether or not a candidate’s popularity on social media and the ability to accumulate massive supports on social media leads to winning of the election for public office after the poll. The findings of this enquiry will serve as a foundation that will either reinforce or debunk the thesis that the social media can promote the possibility of winning an election “.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The general objective of this research is to investigate the rapidly increasing momentum of prominence the social media is gaining in the political sector, which is aimed at exposing its contributions to the sector using the analysis of the roles it played in the 28th March 2015 Presidential elections in Nigeria.
Other objectives of the study of will include;
- To appraise the political parties of PDP and APC incorporation of the social media in their pre 2015 presidential election campaigns.
- To expose if the social media in anyway contributed to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari winning of the election and Dr. Goodluck E. Jonathan’s loss.
- To investigate if the social media in anyway acted as a check on electoral malpractices during the 2015 presidential elections.
- To evaluate whether the implementation of social media in political sector especially elections has any effects on the political relevance of the mass media.
- To evaluate the reliance on social media as instruments of political campaigns.
- To examine the extent to which social media supporters of a candidate or party exercise the same support on Election Day by coming out to vote.
1.4 Significance of the Study
Social media, has become almost an insperatable part of human life. In recent times, social media have evolved new forms of political participation and as well greater power consolidation. According to Policy and legal Advocacy Center (2012), the 2011 elections in Nigeria, so witnessed a remarkable usage of the social media as tools for political communication. It was used for campaigns, personality promotions and as well a tool of destruction and tarnishing of rival candidates and party’s reputation. Thus neglecting the impacts of social media in not just local but international politics, is a misnomer. The relevance of this study, will expose the level of influence the social media has acquired in modern contemporary political societies. The study will serve as a foundation that would help politicians understand the need to efficiently combine the social media and traditional media for efficacy in their interactions and relations with the electorates. The study will also help the users of social media, especially the youths to understand the power of effective usage of the social media and how it can help them gain command in politics.
Conclusively, the study will help the governments officials understand the level of harm the social media lacuna they create between the interval of assumption of office and the expiration of their tenures in office, can do to their political career.
1.5 The scope of the study
This study is limited to the social media activities as it relates to the 28March 2015 presidential election. Though many parties were accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission to stand the election, the parties of interest in this work are the two runner up parties which were APC and PDP and their presidential candidates. Majorly, the study centers around the social media of Twitter and Facebook with very minimum links on other social media networks. The study is concerned with the online activities in Twitter and Facebook between the periods of 1st August 2014 up till 30th of April 2015 pertaining the election. It takes in consideration Facebook chats, tweet updates, video uploads, voice notes, news flashes and new headlines centering on electoral discussions, the candidates political affairs, the parties activities in preparation and anticipation of the 2015 Presidential elections. Data considered viable include views, opinions, debates, reactions and counter reactions of Nigerian social media populace in respect to the political parties of PDP and APC and their Presidential Candidates.
1.6 Limitations of the Study
The primary limitation of this study is that, the investigation is based on third party point of view, entailing that since the study wasn’t conducted during the period of the election and data not adduced directly from the scene, the authenticity of the date available about it in the internet is not guaranteable, as it may have undergone some form of adulteration within the gap of when recorded and now the research is being conducted.
Also the objectivity of the researcher’s positions on the findings of the investigation is not guaranteed as there are chances of researcher’s bias interference in the course of interpreting the findings of this study and the drawing of an objective conclusion.
Furthermore, human behavior being the object matter of this research cannot be subjected to lab experiment, thus is unpredictable and subject to change, therefore conclusions drawn based on the findings of this investigation if implemented in a future similar, but different case may fail to yield the same results.
There is also time and money constrictions which made the researcher to limit the data source to just secondary sources within his disposal.
The data generated in the course of this investigation may not be representative of the positions of every electorate on social media as it was not adduced directly from the participants.
1.7 Statement of Research Question
- Does the campaign promises or messages acceptance on social media promote or demote a political party or a candidate’s chances of winning elections?
- What are the effects of social media lacuna between a candidate or his party and the electorates on political dreams?
- Does the social media play any role in promoting political participation in the state?
- Does winning of pre-election social media poll, transcend into actual votes and supports on the day of election?
1.8 Conceptual Definition of Terms.
Operational definition of Social media;
Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people to create, share or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks. Social media is the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interactions, content-sharing and collaboration”. Websites and applications dedicated to forums, micro blogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis are among the different types of social media. Furthermore, social media depend on mobile and web-based technologies to create highly interactive platforms through which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content.
Objectives of Social media
(a) Guaranteed Meeting Places:
When attempting to plan meetings with colleagues or friends, having access to social networking sites expands the available times and places in which meetings can occur. Individuals can meet each other and chat over Face book, or open a video chat through Google+. Rather than having to travel to specific locations, or try to work times out in which everyone is near a central location, people can plan to meet at times that work for all of their schedules.
(b) Keep in Touch with Family:
Keeping in contact with family through the phone or even over email presents a challenge. Instead, social networking sites allow the individual to share their day to day life in a secure but public forum, which family can watch and experience. Face book, for example, allows people to share events, images, and thoughts in real time, during the course of any day. Family and friends can then experience all the things that someone does, and comment on them. Then, they share in the experience, rather than just being “informed” about them during weekly phone calls.
(c) Professional Networking:
For professionals and academics, social networking sites allow users to create networks of like-minded people. Academics find other scholars to share research or ideas, or simply to talk to and “get their name out there.” Professionals find mutual friends and possible clients, employers, or business partners. Social networking expands the horizons of what sort of contacts people can make in their professional lives.
Conclusion and Recommendation
With advances in technology, the smartphone has become an indispensable everyday requirement for almost everybody, and it has had a tremendous effect on the way we receive, process and disseminates information. The pervasive use of social media and smartphones in Nigerian obviously influenced the campaign strategies of the gladiators of the 2015 presidential election, in many cases citizens who would ordinarily not show interest in electioneering and electioneering campaigns were empowered to do so via social media and the availability of cheap smartphone and broadband connectivity. Although social media and smartphones have their limitations evident suggests that they have become an indispensable tool in the hands of Nigerian citizens who have become empowered more than ever before to partake in the national debate from an informed perspective in the privacy of their homes. This is evident from the 2015 Nigerian presidential election which was won by the opposition political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Irrespective of this awesome power of the social media to mold public opinion and promote democratic participation, the platform has also come under a lot of flak for being the purveyor of misinformation and fake news. Consequently, we can infer that the social media is a double edged sword. On the one hand it has aided democratic participation, but on the other hand, it is capable of becoming an anti-democratic force through the easy spread of misinformation and fake news, which can lead to anarchy. This is a delicate balance which must be carefully handled through legislation, ethics, and individual responsibility.
To foster individual rights in the digital age, the Nigerian government should pass into law the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, which has already passed second reading in the House of Representatives as at June 2017. Passage of this bill is significant because it assures citizens’ rights to freely express themselves through online platforms and the social media in a responsible manner. Assent to the bill would give a boost to citizens’ freedom of expression as contained in section 39 of the Nigerian 1999 constitution. This would be of benefit to active citizens’ participation in the democratic process.
However, the rising specter of misinformation and fake news on social media is a cause for concern. There should be a concerted effort to fight the menace. To this end, social media users should take responsibility for what they post or share. A social media user must go through the pain of verification and vetting stories before clicking the share button. They should also pay attention to the biases of online sites and not accept everything they see as the truth because it aligns with their views and biases. Furthermore, mainstream journalism should rise to the challenges posed by the social media by paying more premium to quality and investigative journalism. The mainstream media should be the guardian of fact in a post-truth era.
This study makes the following recommendations:
- Campaigns about the electoral process should be a continuous one on the social media without posting lies. This will get the electorate greatly acquainted with all the requirements and process that make one to be eligible. Ones empowered they can freely exercise their mandate with utmost ease.
- Government agencies like the National Orientation Agency, NOA and other stakeholders should avoid overreliance on the mass media and make use of social media to rekindle the confidence of the citizens. Interpersonal communication which establishes direct relationship with electorate should be used to complement mass media messages. This is where civil society can play a pivotal role by exhibiting drama to rural communities that need greater awareness.
- With intensive empowerment, community voting should be replaced with individual voting so as not to disenfranchise voters. Community voting obviously promotes god fatherism. Absence of this strengthens and affirms our democracy as electorate feel fulfilled they freely casted their votes to those they wanted as against being manipulated by Chiefs and god fathers.
- Voters should realize that whoever they vote will impact on their lives in future. Therefore, they should continue with the gesture of wisely casting their votes free from ethnic, religious and social ties as well as other trivial considerations with retrogressive tendency.
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