Social Media and the 2023 General Election – By: .

Politicians and accomplished statesmen should be media savvy. They must deploy the dominant media technology of the time to the fullest extent to lucidly communicate their thoughts, visions and sound bites. These end up resonating with their huge audience / supporters, etching them in their memories and becoming part of history.

Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio to communicate during World War II and the terrible Great Depression respectively. As the power of radio waned and was eclipsed by television, the svelte and elegant John F. Kennedy harnessed the glamor of television to beat Richard Nixon in the very first televised presidential debate in our annals. Ronald Reagan, nicknamed the Great Communicator, brought his melodious voice and cadence to speeches written by Peggy Noonan and Company.

In our jurisdiction, Tafawa Balewa, Maitama Sule and the inimitable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe are remembered with nostalgia for their eloquence. Each gave us memorable and captivating speeches. Dr Azikiwe, even more, with his urbanity and quotes. Each time Zik has lost an election, he has published an apt epitaph, the last in 1983 being: “History will vindicate the just.”

Although the traditional media – radio, newspapers, magazines and television – remain strongholds, we have seen a resurgence of social media over the past 20 years and it has radically transformed the political landscape. From an underdog position, Barrack Obama used social media to raise funds to eclipse Hillary Clinton and ultimately win the US presidency. The maverick Donald Trump who succeeded President Obama simply turned himself into the head of Twitter and fed on a daily diet of cable news.

By the way, what are the social networks? Wikipedia succinctly describes them as “interactive technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, interests, and other forms of expression through virtual communities and networks.” Social media has four salient attributes, namely: it is interactive Web 2.0. Internet-based applications (apps); they facilitate user-generated content; they create service-specific profiles for the website or application; and they help to develop online social networks by connecting a user’s profile with others. Translation: these are: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Reditt, WhatsApp, etc. It was commensurate with their fearsomeness that they galvanized community action during the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, Me Too Movement, and more.

It is correct to say that social media content is generated by all comers, regardless of their background, socio-economic status and agenda. It is true that their content is very loosely regulated and can be salacious, sinister, extravagant and sometimes defamatory. It is true that their content is not generated by professional journalists, as in the case of traditional media, who are guided by high ethics, the art and craftsmanship of writing and imbued with a permanent sense social responsibility and the national interest. Also, it is true that there are no editors to guard the doors and check the content for good taste, infelicities, facts, inaccuracies, defamation, etc.

But social media, warts and all, are the new fad. In January 2022, according to Google, “Nigeria had about 109 million active internet users, which is about half of the total population” daily. In addition, the most used social media platforms by Nigerians in Q3 2021 are: WhatsApp, 91.9%; Facebook, 86.4%; Instagram, 77.9%; FB Messenger, 71.2%.

What can be gleaned from the above is that Nigerians, especially its young population, are active in social media. It is for this compelling and defining reason that materials published or trending in traditional media are often uploaded to social media platforms for greater visibility and impact. In addition to traditional media, social media is the firmament to be in if you want to market a product or service. Vibrant and progressive organizations such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), mainstream media and civil society organizations have largely migrated and dominated the social media space with their robust and interactive websites and platforms. Today, one can access electronic copies of our newspapers and view life-saving television programs on YouTube.

If the EMB and some of its key stakeholders have taken advantage of the enormous opportunities offered by social media, what about our political parties and candidates? This question becomes relevant given the disdain for Internet users by political parties and candidates and the importance they place on “structures”. But as we have seen from the above, those who place undue importance on certain phantom and fictitious “structures” are likely to grieve. Indeed, mostly young Nigerian voters have since migrated to social media!

Nick Dazang is a former director of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Comments are closed.