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 indeed changed the way people think about issues.
One of the most important developments in election campaigns come 2019 will be the advent of social media. It will primarily change the ways in which candidates and parties conduct their campaigns. Social media will fundamentally change the way in which citizens are exposed to political information.
That many Nigerians have embraced and 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 are going to be on social media and less at the big rally fronts. Politicians will have to familiarise themselves with social media, make their presence felt and stay engaged positively with the electorate.
As I write, 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 without having the press in the middle. By having this ability, they can pass across whatever message to intend to pass across to their followers as quickly as they would want. This is obviously faster than to have to go through the newsstands. This also allows them to have complete control of their own message. I think this gives unprecedented power to campaigns apart from circumventing news almost entirely. It mobilises certain segments of the election. For example, it will mobilise a younger audience and keep them aware of what is going on.
On the other hand, we have social media allowing for non-elite 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 reach out to others.
Twitter and Facebook have become instrumental in organising campaigns as campaigns are going viral. They allow like-minded voters and activists to easily share news and information such as campaign events with each other. That’s what the “share” function on Facebook and “retweet” feature of Twitter are for.
Donald Trump used Twitter heavily in his 2016 presidential campaign. “I like it because I can get my point of view out there, and my point of view is very important to a lot of people that are looking at me,” Trump said.
As Nigeria’s 2019 general election approaches, on social media we will see lots of people participating in elections. What this will lead to is having lots of discussions on several platforms and all happening at the same time instead of having one main discussion that’s happening on the mainstream media.
Social media will have more impact in the upcoming general election but one important aspect we will be looking out for is the good, the bad and the ugly.
Dike Chukwuma, Abuja