• Friday, July 19, 2024
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2015 elections: Whither social media votes?

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With the 2015 elections less than 40 days away, there is an intense debate online concerning the candidates, the parties and what Nigerians want as a people. At least, for over a decade of usage of the internet, political discussions online get more intense per election coupled with multiple means of access to the internet for Nigerians.

Ironically, as more Nigerians contribute on the internet cum social media, my scepticism increases because the inherent problems of the internet remain anonymity and questionable reliability of information posted. These weaknesses have been exploited by stakeholders in order to rewrite history, augment a candidate’s personality and denigrate the other. Unlike the traditional media where more scrutiny and professionalism would be largely applied before publishing stories, anyone can set up a website to publish libellous or fake stories and people buy it cheaply.

Invariably, rumours and unfounded allegations become ‘news’ items – for example, a user account was created on one of the social media platforms with the profile pictures and bio purportedly in support of a candidate. However, this user made inciting statements reminding anyone who cared to read that a support against this candidate was a support against his religion! Whilst the candidate had previously made statements declaring his non-partisanship, this user account was created to make it appear like his supporters are violent. The anonymity of the internet brooks false appearances as genuine intentions, hence one has to be careful with information bandied around.

The use of this premise is to link the virtual world to realities on ground. Oftentimes, in a bid to gauge the sentiments of the populace, political stakeholders rely on internet census or polls. Social media followership, ‘likes’, retweets, shares and other forms of trends are confused for popularity on voting day. Despite the fact that there are hardly any statistical correlations that online opinions will necessarily translate into physical votes, there is a delusion in the satisfaction that internet frenzy arouses.

On the election day, it is a different ball game. The social media population is only a fraction of the total voter population and more enlightenment is needed when we consider the adult illiteracy rate, active internet users and current total number of registered voters in Nigeria are 56.9 percent, 48 million and 70.3 million, respectively.

Before engaging in any political discourse (online), I ask the individual this question: do you have your permanent voters card (PVC)? It may sound arrogant but when considering the fact that the elections are just days away, I’d rather channel my time towards an individual who has the power to make a change with just one vote. Whilst everyone is entitled to their opinions, opinions do not count in elections, they are counted in ballot boxes as valid votes.

From previous experience on election days, my concern is not usually about the educated; it has more to do with the semi-literates and illiterates. I observe that this stratum of voters face challenges that make them vote ‘wrongly’. They face the ‘challenges’ of being coerced by party agents, threatened by political thugs or persuaded by short-term ‘stomach infrastructural facilities’ on election day. This is where the social media frenzy needs to be cooled.

Candidates of political parties invest so much in publishing pictures of their faces but often forget that on election day, neither will their pictures nor names appear on the ballot papers. It is the party names and logos that will be used.

Every election season, the list of political parties keeps changing as some ‘mushroom’ parties try to test their popularity by adding up to the numbers. Politicians defecting from one party to the other have also not helped matters; voters (especially the stratum identified above) tend to be confused by the number of parties listed, the similarities of party logos and similarities of party names that appear on the ballot papers. From my observations, the party at the top, the middle and the bottom get ‘random’ votes due to the naivety of some members of the electorate.

Being none of their fault, Nigerians still vote individuals and not necessarily political parties. As our electoral law does not permit independent candidacy, it is hoped that the next step in our democracy will be the strengthening of political parties as institutions because if the ideologies and principles were entrenched, ‘political prostitution’ in the name of defections or cross-carpeting would be an unattractive step. Whilst the campaigns go on, let the campaigners not forget the sensitization of voters on how to ‘do the needful’ on election in order for them to get valid votes on election day.

Election after election, progress is made in our electoral process; it is hoped that future elections involve sophisticated discussions on governance, a more enlightened electorate and political parties that are, in the words of US President Barack Obama, “strong institutions” and not necessarily championed by “strongmen”.

Once again, time is limited. The social media sensitization should not just be e-social; it should be social in the true meaning of the word. Remember, elections are decided by those who do not vote wisely!

Mustafa Yusuf-Adebola