The Nigeria Press, Social Media And Free And Fair Election In The 21st Century
1.1 Background to the Study
Communication is very essential to man because, it is the only means through which he understands his environment. This is done through the exchange of information or ideas concerning the environment, which causes a change for better and improved ways of living in the society. Such messages were repleted with painting, dramatic piece, amongst others, by pioneers of the means of mass communication who would be amazed at the great height their modest efforts have reached. In performance of these roles, overtime, they employ technologies of communication such as radio, television, films, telegraphs, newspapers, and magazines to communicate messages to a large, heterogeneous, anonymous, scattered and transitory audience. No wonder Ndolo (2006:10) posits that communication has not only remained a critical component of the society but the pivot on which the society revolves. It therefore follows that virtually all we know about our external environment is the product of information communicated through the media.
In the context of this study, the Nigerian Press are understood to constitute social institution created to perform as required by the society, identifiable tasks of spreading information’s, interpretation, education and entertainment; through these technologies of communication. And as such, the Press, through its various mass media, has the capabilities of convincing people through the provision of relevant information at an appropriate time and season and thus channeling the people’s mind towards the direction the voice(s) behind the media want(s) them to go. The mass media can sub consciousness cage the minds of the people through carefully selected audio\visual signals repeated over a period of time.
The press has the potential to influence the way both the government and the citizens respond to issues of public concern. For instance, media reports and analyses of the results of an election are usually predicated on the views and comments of the internal and theexternal observers that monitored the conduct of an election. In the same vein, the mass media provide the platform for the public debates and discussions on the elections through media platforms. It is such avenues that afford the citizens the opportunity of knowing whether the elections were free and fair based on the views expressed by the general public regarding the activities and conduct of the elections. In most democratic societies, citizens tend to rely more on media reports and editorials on the conduct of elections than the reports gathered from other sources of observations on the events.
Political parties and candidates, the world over, carry out their political activities through different forums and platforms such as the use of modern media of communication (radio, television, newspaper and magazine), and the use of political campaign rallies to disseminate all kinds of information to electorates as a way of swaying voters’ voting decision to their favour. However, the adoption of the Global System of Mobile telecommunication (GSM) by Nigeria in 2001 opened up new vistas of communication on an unprecedented level. This came at a time when the country had just come out of a long period of military dictatorship and once again experimenting with democracy where free and fair election is most required.
Media homes in Nigeria especially the privately-owned ones have always been strong instruments of sensitization and mobilization of people toward democracy even in the dark days of brutal military dictatorship (Ajayi, 2007). However, their reach was limited by such factors as government intimidation and harassments, logistics, limited resources and their elitist ownership and control, which the new media have reduced a great deal to the barest minimum. But with the widening of the communication media space through improved technology information dissemination and sensitization of people now have a widespread immediacy and more diligent follow up of events. This is as a result of their easy accessibility and availability irrespective of social status. Even with the cheapest mobile phones one can still access some social media platforms at reasonable cost for information, education and entertainment. Fundamentally the media exists as an organ of information sourcing and dissemination, social enlightenment and mobilization. These functions set the media apart as an important factor in the relationship between the government and the governed thereby making them indispensable for good governance, the deepening of democracy, societal growth and development generally.
The emergence of the new social media is a major phenomenon that has transformed the interaction, communication and sharing of information between people throughout the world in the 21st century. It is important to point out here that social media is not a new concept. It has been evolving since the dawn of human interaction. Meanwhile, during the 21st century, there was the emergence of new forms of social media networks such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, internet service among others. The emergence of these new forms of social media revolutionized many aspects of human communication. Thus, today social media have become a natural part of the everyday lives of people all over the world. For instance, as at 2010, there were about 4.5 million Facebook users in the world (André-Michel, 2010:3) and this has been increasing rapidly. This development makes social media fantastic tools for communicating with large audience.
The arrival of these new media platforms have continued to change the way people communicate with each other or one another around the world. For example, mobile phone penetration rates, in particular, have resulted in a plethora (excess/surplus) of ideas for new media platforms aimed at bridging the information divide between the well-connected and the disconnected (Unwin, 2012:7). In addition, Internet-based communication has equally started to gain importance in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. Both mobile phones and the internet provide exciting new opportunities for one-to-one as well as one-to-many communication.
The much reported rapid spread of mobile connectivity and services, as well as different forms of public and shared internet access have allowed a growing number of people who may not have access to a computer or a fixed connection to take part in “the global conversation” (André-Michel, 2010:4).
The use of new social media in politics has continued to grow in many parts of Africa since the 21st century. The role of social media networks such as mobile phones’ SMS, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in deepening the democratization of Nigeria in recent times cannot be overemphasized. For example, 2011 alone witnessed a massive use of mobile phones’ SMS, Facebook, Twitter in the general elections in Nigeria. The social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are amongst the most visited websites in Nigeria. Due to their participatory, interactive and cost-effective nature, they have become veritable instruments for carrying out election campaigns and other electioneering activities, political engagement and mobilization among others.
About twelve years now from the entry of this new channel of mass communication into Nigeria. There is no doubting the fact that this new technology with several social media platforms such as the use of internet for social networking, blogging, video-sharing (YouTube), tweeting, and photo-sharing (Instagram) has greatly enhanced human communication in this dispensation. Considering the participatory, interactive and cost-effective nature of the new media, they have become veritable instruments for the deepening of democratic ideals and processes in terms of informationsharing, monitoring and evaluation of election processes, reduction of tension and anxieties associated with elections, ensuring and even enforcing transparency and accountability to a large extent. Wherefore, the 21st century information and communication technologies have brought about significant revolution that has opened – up new media platforms unmatched in history in terms of interconnectivity, interactivity, multiplicity and accessibility (Mc Quail, 2005, cited in Edegoh and Samson, 2014, p. 203).
Mojeed-Sanni (2015) assert that social media are the collection of online communicators channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content sharing and collaboration: Mojeed-Sanni (2015) further avers that among the different types of social media presently used in social interaction include websites and applications dedicated to forums, micro-blogging, social networking, social book-marking, social curator, and wikis. As noted by Kietzman and Hernkens (2011) social networking platforms depend on mobile and web-based techniques to create highly interactive platforms through which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss and modify user-generated content.
The information and communication technologies available for everyday communication and interaction of humans have so contracted our world that the world has become far less a global village (to borrow Marshal McLuhan’s mantra) and has metamorphosed into a global family. Mojeed-Sanni (2015) notes that through the social media the world has moved from being a global village to a global parlour, wherein from the corners of a large room, far reaching mobilisation, decisions and annihilation are carried out re-vibrating national and global consequences.
Many social media platforms exist globally for communication and information sharing activities of mankind. These include Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, 2go, My Space, YouTube, Wikipedia, Google+, Linkedln, Ning, Flickr, StumbleUpon and Reddit, to name a few. A careful look at the Nigerian internet world shows that Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, 2go, YouTube, Google+, Path and Linkedln are the most popular (Mojeed-Sanni, 2015). These social media platforms are utilised by different individuals and organisations for several purposes – business, academic, social, political, religious, and a host of others.
The modern media have been in use for all types of political communicating for a long time and have been adjudged effective in communicating political ideas, issues, candidates, manifesto, etc., to the intended audience. However, the advent of the social media has introduced a new dimension to political communication wherein elections campaigns and scouting for votes by political office-seekers and political parties are done by utilising the vast opportunities provided by the social media to not only register their political interest and ambition but also persuasively appeal to be voted for.
The political theatre for most successful election campaigns in today’s world is located in the social media and most electoral battles, nowadays, are fought and won through the social media. Access to social media is easy and could be done anywhere and at anytime, in ones’ office, home, while waiting in the car, in the comfort of people’s bedroom, etc., using smart phones, laptops, and other forms of communication devices at the disposal of people (Edegoh and Samson, 2014). With these devices voters could access any candidate that is online and obtain the needed information about the candidate. Thus, today social media have become a natural part of the everyday lives of people all over the world. For instance, as at 2010, there were about 4.5 million Facebook users in the world (André-Michel, 2010:3) and this has been increasing rapidly. This development makes social media fantastic tools for communicating with large audience.
Furthermore, the emergence of the relatively new Social media, thanks to the internet, and the proliferation of mobile phones presents a whole new challenge for African government in combating dangerous speech and snide tribal remarks that are the catalysts for potential and actual election violence that has been the bane of fledgling democracies. Whilst authorities are constantly seeking ways to address the misuse of the mainstream media especially during critical times of elections, Social media has become a vast platform for even people who hitherto had no measure of control over the use of the traditional media in pursuing their own agenda or making their voices heard.(www.penplusbytes.org)
Following the evolution, most privately owned media firms have taken to the use of social media in the desermination of relevant public informations and activities of these political parties on various social media platforms. Like the traditional media, social media also has the potential to stoke tensions and plunge a whole country into mayhem. Its distinctiveness from the mainstream traditional media like the newspapers, television, and film in terms of its high level of penetration, affordability, easy accessibility and usability, immediacy, permanence and convenience not only makes it a better alternative but sadly a more dangerous tool in the hands of war mongers.(www.penplusbytes.org)
Social media is almost as powerful as the traditional media in terms of reaching a larger audience. The real danger lies in the fact that social media is difficult to regulate and unscrupulous people who use it negatively can be hard to identify, track and bring to justice. Many have even attributed the strange but genuine increase in cyber bullying, online social predators, and the decrease in face-to-face interactions to the increase in the use of social media websites.
The extent of the utilisation of social media by the Nigerian Press in ensuring free and fair elections in the 21st century form the thrust of this study. However, the focus of this report will center on its political implications in the 21st century elections and democracy, precisely the use or role of social media in elections. Because its contributions to both advanced and young democratic countries are immense. Though Social Media is relatively new especially in less developed countries in Africa, its impact on the political landscape cannot be overemphasized. It is against this backdrop also, that this study discusses the new social media and consolidation of democracy in Nigeria with particular emphasis on their potentials and challenges.
This study therefore is important in that it investigate how the Nigerian Press use social media platforms in following and monitiring the activities of political parties – before and during elections – in Nigeria with a view to ascertain free and fair elections, as it is often said that election is a major test of a nation’s democracy.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Many factors affect voting behavior during elections. Some of these factors are opinion leaders‟ influence, information from the mass media, religion and family. Outside these, there are other considerations like tribalism, ethnicity, corruption, sentiments and the power of incumbency and these factors go a long way in influencing vg pattern during elections.
However, there is uncertainty about the influence of the Press in ensuring free and fair electoral activities in elections irrespective of the media used in sharing information. It is against this +backdrop that the researcher viewed this study a worthwhile project to ascertain the use of the various social media platforms available to the Nigerian Press in ensuring that all players of general elections processes in Nigeria are acquainted with the relevant informations at their own convenient medium of accessing information.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
This study attempt to evaluate the reoccurring debate about the influence of the press in ensuring free and fair election. Broadly, the objectives of this study is to ascertain the extent to which the Press in Nigeria use the social media to help all citizens of the country follow all election activities and to determine the specific activities they purveyed through the social media. Summarily, specific objectives of this study is to:
- To ascertain how social media has aid in ensuring free and fair election in the 21st century?
- Find out the specific activities that they purveyed through these social media platforms.
- Establish the relationship between the Nigerian press and social media in influencing free and fair elections in the 21st century.
1.4 Research Questions
The following research questions were proposed to guide this study.
- Has the social media aid in ensuring free and fair election in the 21st century?
- To what extent did the Nigerian Press influence public choice, decisions and reactions through these media?
- How does all these factors influenced free and fair elections in the country?
1.5 Significance of the Study
The issue of media influence on audience has always attracted the interest of researchers. This study, may establish empirically the extent of the Nigerian Press’ influence in ensuring that all activities involved in elections is tranparent and free and fair indeed, through the use of all the traditional mass communication technologies and social media platforms.
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