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Dimensions of political communication in the digital age

Dimensions of political communication in the digital age

By Chido Nwakanma

Omoniyi Ibietan (2023), Cyber Politics: Social Media, Social Demography and Voting Behaviour in Nigeria. Abuja/Washington: Premium Times Books. ISBN: 978-978-798-681-3. 426 pages.

The nexus between communication and democracy is a central theme in Omoniyi Ibietan’s book “Cyber Politics: Social Media, Social Demography and Voting Behaviour in Nigeria”. Ibietan argues that communication is essential for the functioning of democracy. It allows citizens to access information about political issues, to form opinions, and to hold their government accountable.

Social media has transformed the way that people communicate about politics. It has made it easier for citizens to access information from a variety of sources, to connect with politicians, and to mobilise support for their causes. However, social media has also been used to spread misinformation and disinformation and to interfere in elections.

Cyber Politics is akin to the elephant the blind men described from various angles. Readers with a 20-20 vision will see many tips and vistas of this richly textured exposition of political communication from the lens of the digital media and the Information Age.

Across 426 pages, Cyber Politics contains 12 chapters, a foreword, commendation, introduction, and preface. Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, immediate past Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, wrote the foreword. Okeifufe Frank Jnr Nweke, an Obasanjo-era Minister of Information under whom Ibietan served, wrote a commendation. Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher and CEO of Premium Times media group, did the Introduction. Premium Times Books published this work in Abuja and Washington.

A starting point is understanding political communication as the pillar of the work.

Political communication studies and practices how information is created, transmitted, and processed in a political context.

Political communication is an integral part of any democracy. It helps ensure citizens have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about their government and leaders. It also helps to facilitate public debate about important issues and to hold politicians accountable.

Ibietan explores the following key aspects of the nexus between communication and democracy in the context of cyber politics in Nigeria:

• The role of social media in promoting political participation and engagement among citizens.

• The use of social media by politicians to communicate with voters and mobilise support.

• The impact of social media on the electoral process, including voter registration, turnout, and candidate selection.

• The challenges of regulating social media to minimise its negative impact on democracy.

Chapter Seven, “Social Demographic Factors and Voting Behaviour”, is at the heart of the discourse with relevant data, charts, and maps. Radio was a dominant source of political information in the 2015 election. Radio accounted for 35.4%, Billboard 20.96%, Grapevine 19.8%, Television 8.91%, and Newspaper/Magazine 6.68%. Interestingly, respondents to the survey identified several possible explanations for their voting behaviour. Pp 189-261. These were the personality of the candidate, social media campaign messages, campaign messages on Newspapers, Radio and Television, and “my family and friends prefer the party”.

The book presents several key findings, notably that less than ten per cent of voters in the 2015 election cited social media as a significant influence on their decision-making. However, it highlights the potential for social media to shape voter behaviour mainly through the influence of opinion leaders and peer groups.

Other scholars may examine the influence and role of social media in subsequent elections in 2019 and 2023. The anecdotal narrative is that social media influence has increased exponentially since 2015. True or false?

The following are 12 core learnings from the book.

1. Social media has become a powerful tool for political communication in Nigeria. It provides a platform for politicians to connect with voters, share their messages, and mobilise support.

2. “WhatsApp was comparatively the best of the three social media networks (Facebook and Twitter) in terms of influence on the voting behaviour of respondents to the research on the 2015 presidential election’ p. 261.

3. Both politicians and voters use social media to spread information, misinformation and disinformation. This can be alternately positive and harmful to the electoral process and Nigerian democracy.

4. Politicians use social media to target specific groups of voters, such as youth and women. This can lead to a more segmented and polarised electorate.

5. Social media can suppress voter turnout, particularly among marginalised groups.

6. Social media can be used to monitor and manipulate public opinion. This can be done by tracking user data and using algorithms to target users with specific messages.

7. The use of social media in Nigerian politics is influenced by several factors, including the country’s social demography, digital literacy levels, and political culture.

8. “Nigerians used social media to facilitate and enhance the effectiveness of election observation”. By 2015, the enriched social media were “virtually at par with the mainstream media”. P60.

9. Social media has had a significant impact on Nigerian voting behaviour. It has made it easier for voters to access information and connect with politicians. It has also made it easier for voters to mobilise and organise themselves.

10. A strong and positive correlation exists between social media networks, social and demographic variables, and voting behaviour. Facebook influenced the voting behaviour of young people (18-39).

11. Religion as a social and demographic factor also influenced the voting behaviour of the respondents. Ninety-six per cent of Muslim respondents voted for a Muslim candidate, and 55 per cent of Christians voted for a Christian candidate.

12. Hashtags can expand the reach and accessibility of political information. Stakeholders in electoral, social, political, and democratic culture renaissance should adopt or increase their use of hashtags in political and other communication campaigns.

Cyber Politics has received deserved media accolades and mentions since its market entry. Scholars in the social sciences (mass communication, political science, sociology, psychology, and geography) will find Chapter Five on “The Place of Theory” stimulating and worth interrogating.

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Quotes on books and reading

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