• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Digital social capital: Social networks in the last general elections

Digital social capital: Social networks in the last general elections

The novelty of social networking through social media platforms unarguably played a critical role in the just concluded general elections in Nigeria and certainly will do more in subsequent ones. Although initially assumed to be unreal and lacking in structure, digital social networks are essentially a social structure with numerous usefulness. One of these was experienced in the last elections.

The electoral trends observed in the elections are evidence of the significant possibilities rooted in digital social connections and interactions. No doubt, a clear statement was made in the emergence of a new bloc of voters in the Nigerian electoral landscape that was made possible by digital social networks. Interestingly, this phenomenon transcends Nigerian reality and must be considered as such.

Understanding the influence of social networks in the last elections requires a grasp of the concept of social capital. Social theorists like Robert Putman and Francis Fukuyama described social capital as the essence of social networking.

Consequently, assets embedded in digital social networking are referred to as digital social capital. These are virility, ease of use, flexibility, wide participation, autonomous and decentralized membership, among others. The values of social connectivity are however not unconnected with the underlining values of the larger society.

In other words, social networking assets’ functionality depends on the larger societal values. Unfortunately, a society with dysfunctional value systems cannot create sustainable social assets whether online or offline.

Social capital comprises two forms: bonding and bridging. Bonding is often characterized by the following elements: homogeneity, emotions, a natural sense of entitlement, and protectionism. Bridging is more diverse, usually lower in emotions and higher in objectivity.

Instances of bonding are found in tribal, language, and familial ties while bridging is found in education, professional, and related social ties. Although bonding can easily guarantee heritage protection, bridging gives insight into the complexities of social diversity and the possibilities therein. Nevertheless, the two are no doubt essential for individual and societal sustenance.

The recent evolution in digital technologies has radically transformed social connectivity with a huge impact on the nature of social capital, particularly, with respect to ease of bridging. Nevertheless, social connectivity and interactions in the digital space (although unconventional in approach) remain a valid social structure. Social networking is, in fact, key to social capital generation (whether traditionally or digitally), it is however nurtured and sustained with trust, reciprocity, mutual understanding, consistency, shared values, etc. No doubt, the evolution of digital technologies has allowed unprecedented ease for social networking with little or no cost.

Read also: Protecting intellectual property in the digital age – legal strategies for technology companies

Unarguably, the main influential factors observed in the last elections are majorly ethnic, religious, and of course monetary inducements. The influence of digital social networking sites that created a kind of generational dichotomy in the voters’ perspective and decisions, however, deserves special attention.

While the older generations were mostly baited with the traditional arguments of tribal bonds and structural protectionism, the younger ones seem to have been influenced more by their openness to possibilities of change through virtual social networks.

The basis for the contrast in voters’ decisions is inseparable from the trends of global deviancies in recent years. For instance, the #ENDSARS protest seems to have had a great influence on the younger generations’ voting decisions in the last elections which unfortunately was marred with a high level of obvious irregularities. In essence, the latter’s decisions of deviancy and radicalism are a reflection of their belief in possibilities and a deep thirst for change (which is still in the birthing phase).

Following the preceding conversation, a distinction can be made between the various forms of social capital and their roles in national transformation. For instance, while bonding is a natural form of social connectivity, it is rarely transformational on a national (or global level). Developed nations evolved beyond the natural bonds of tribes and accept the necessary reality of building bridges across the board (irrespective of differences) in order to attain such a befitting state.

The hope of Nigeria is in the emerging generations whose paradigm will transcend tribe, religion, and self-interests to make leadership decisions. However, the underlying value system of society remains critical to any form of transformational development.

In the end, the future generations need to be understood and properly nurtured to engender Nigeria’s rightful position in the comity of nations. Consequently, it becomes necessary that the old generations accept this reality as a necessary demand for a sustainable future.