The social media has become a powerful tool for effective communication. Aside engaging people across the globe, it is an effective “weapon” that has influenced the outcome of elections across the world.
The U.S Presidential election readily comes to mind. Many attest how it contributed significantly to the emergence of Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Trump’s overwhelming visibility on the social media and “tailored narratives” could be identified as some of the major factors that shaped the outcome of the polls in his favour against a leading contender such as Hilary Clinton.
In Imo State, social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp became major online outlets for major players in the electoral contest in 2019 to market their aspiration.Blogs, regular online news outfits also aided in shaping and changing political narratives at random.
More than 70 percent of youths in the State and those who constitute the actual voting population are hooked to the social media with Facebook providing the biggest network of people. It was observed that the number of active social media users in the State actually had Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs to cast their votes.
Public office seekers particularly some governorship candidates who understood the power and efficacy of the social media took advantage of its unlimited and vast reach to either change political narratives prior to the elections and sometimes influenced public opinion/perception rightly or wrongly about the electoral process and political opponents.
It was carefully observed that issues leading to elections in the State were mainly influenced through the social media which led to giving some candidates good edge over other contenders.
In a State the rural dwellers have no access to the internet, those in the urban areas who enjoyed such access relied on information either accurate or false thrown on the social media to either inform, communicate the uninformed rural dwellers.
The 2019 governorship election in Imo State was hi tech to the core, with active online citizens engagement. Some candidates recruited social media “soldiers” who spared no effort in marketing the aspiration of their candidates.
It is on record that never in the history of the State has the social media played a crucial role in shaping the outcome of elections like that of 2019.
With no control over what goes in and out of social media platforms, it provided ample opportunity for candidates and political who understood its efficacy to explore.
It also offered a veritable platform to reach the unreached and at the same time ensured seamless intercourse between those who influenced the narratives and those who consumed it.
Mr. Emeka Dickson, a social media influencer who monitored elections in the State said the 2019 elections in Imo State was “won” on the social media before the actual voting.
“The narratives were generated and twisted on the social media even before the elections. This had great impact. Such narratives could have been tailored to either demonize or promote a certain candidate.
“It depends on how strong such narratives were narrated, generated, fed to the network and how far it went.
“In Imo State, some candidates really understood the power of the social media and they really deployed it to their advantage. When an issue is tailored against a candidate on social media platforms, it becomes a sticking point. It will take a lot to erase such impression either rightly or wrongly. And I believe this worked against some candidates and in favour of others.
“And because there is no effective control mechanism, the social media became an unseen “campaign ground” a loose canon at the beck and call of some of the candidates but what made the difference was who among the candidates deployed it more to his or her advantage
Mr.Dickson added that online news platforms also made great impact during the polls in the State “because it took on the conventional media in the race to disseminate information at rapid speed and precision.
“For the first time, we witnessed an overwhelming appetite for online news by a greater majority. This influenced a lot during and after the polls in the State” he concluded