Yes, social media aids political participation!
Unlike before, whereby this function was primarily the role of the print and electronic media consisting of newspaper, magazine, radio and television, the social media converge the functions of these traditional media and offer a robust platform for political engagement.
According to scholars, hitherto, no one ever envisaged a reduction in the towering roles of the traditional mass.
The ubiquity of the phenomenon in this age has made many experts to claim that the use of social media could lead to a more democratic functioning of the society.
An Egyptian Google Executive, Wael Ghonim, for instance, became very famous for his quote on the domineering power of social media, he said, “If you want to liberate a society, just give them the Internet.”
He believed in designing the social media that drives real change in the society.
One would recall from the street of Cairo and the Arab Spring, from the political calendar to the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan, social media was not only sharing the news, but also driving it.
Apparently, the evolution of social media into a robust mechanism for social transformation is already visible despite many adamant critics who insist that the tools like; Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn among others, are little more than faddish distraction useful only to exchange trivial information, have being proven wrong, time and time again.
The 2011 Arab Social Media report as observed by Shalem and Mourtada, (2011) says 94 per cent of Tunisians get their news from social media tools as do 88 per cent of Egyptians.
The report revealed that in Egypt, there are now more users of Facebook than there are subscribers to newspapers.
A report on the British Broadcasting Corporation, (BBC) in April, 2015, showed that there is now a marriage of social media and politics in the United Kingdom, with about 35 million users of Facebook in that country, sharing contents on that platform, while Twitter, has become the second most used social media platform for sharing political contents.
In the United States of America (USA), popular discourse has focused on the use of social media, for instance, during the Obama presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.
One would recall that Obama most visible opponent in that election, Hilary Clinton first made known her intents to contend for the presidential position through the YouTube while the incumbent president of that country, Mr. Donald Trump twits more than he talks to the traditional print and electronic media.
As it is in abroad so it is in Nigeria, the Nigerian Senate President; Dr. Bukola Saraki broke the news of his defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) first on Twitter before a statement was released to that effect to the traditional media organisations.
In fact, in most news broadcast, United States’ number one broadcast station; the Cable News Network (CNN), reference is often made to most of messages from Mr. Donald Trump’s twitter handle. Social media have become the nation talking to itself like the foremost mass media.
The power of social media to influence political participation is based on the informational use, their capacity for one –to- many, many –to- one, many -to- many, synchronous interactive potentials and the capability to bond among users.
In the 2015 general elections in Nigeria for example, social media were used by the youths for informational, educational purposes and participatory commitments.
According to a survey carried out by this writer, large percentage of Nigerians used the tool to support, mobilise and monitor activities in government and among parliamentarians.
The WhatsApp platform was revealed to be the most used to discuss political issues with friends and family oriented-members, support political candidate and share attribute of political candidate on-line while other social media platforms were also used to persuade people to register and vote.
Nigerian youths, particularly, took to the social media from the campaign stages to the point of the release of the results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Consequently, the social media became a general assembly for young people where opinions are shaped with enabling space for encouraging debates with the intent to mobilise the youths towards popular positions as far as electoral matters are concerned.
Furthermore, political actors also deployed agents for collecting opinions from social media as means of getting undiluted and useful feedbacks from all strata of the Nigerian society.
This demonstrated the dynamic use of social media in Nigeria, which were considered only as forum for frivolities and for passing abuses on each other by users, especially, the youths who perhaps, do not align with a particular political belief.
Having gained momentum and popularity in the Nigerian political space, especially among the political actors and the ever tech savvy youths, the platforms must therefore not be misused.
It mustn’t be used to spread fake news, promote bigotry, crimes, and hate speeches as well as nepotistic tendencies.
It should be utilised for projecting the wellbeing of Nigeria, douse tension and build brotherliness among the people.
There should also be a longitudinal profiling of the contributions of social media to Nigeria’s political evolution and transitions even as the nation heads to the 2019 elections.
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