Being a paper presented by Abu-Ubaida Ibrahim Kuna at Bayero Each One Mobilize One Hundred Project Symposium Lecture on 30th December, 2018.
I have been invited to speak on the role of social media in political campaigns and I should say it is an expansive topic to tackle within a very short notice. However, let me bring the topic home to most of us by trying to rephrase the topic. I think the subject matter would make more meaning and therefore capture the attention of many people if we talk about the place of young people in contemporary democracies.
Democracy is a unique form of government, which a former United States President, Abraham Lincoln, defined as government of the people by the people for the people. It is therefore the ‘people’ element that brings about the beauty of democracy and accounts for the reason it is seen as the most popular system of government.
The other strong quality of democracy is its provision for periodical election of representatives. And in the attempt to bring the people together and share ideas on what policies and programmes a particular individual or group, political campaigns become necessary to canvass for support.
Political campaigns have always depended heavily on various tools of mass communication to pass information and enlightenment to the people. The discovery of printing, which was the improvement on the art of reading and writing, brought about an increase in the way of sharing information.
If printing enhanced human civilization, the internet revolutionized human communication to the extent that the world has become not only a global village, but also a neighbourhood. It is now possible for a whisper in Gombe to be heard in Germany, just as a picture in this room could be seen many people around the world in an instant. The magic of modern communication has been captured by Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn among other instantaneous messaging platforms.
THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
The internet age has been hailed as the turning point in human communication. However, the beauty of electronic mail was redefined with the discovery of facebook, twitter, instagram, Tumblr, Whatsap, LinkedIn and other social media.
Enlightenment has been the source of victory for the middle class in Europe and the western world. Similarly, social media has become the magic wand of today’s young people. Facebook and twitter have become just about the greatest means of communication in modern times.
In addition to their power of instantaneous communication, the social media, particularly facebook and twitter have become a weapon of socialization and platform for purveyors of information and culture. That is why as at today, social media have a large population of active users, most of whom are young people aged between 18 and 35.
Social media parade an amazing power because of these twin elements of speed and size (population). The power of social media was recently demonstrated in Tunisia, at the build up to the Arab spring and in Egypt, where a sitting government was dethroned by young people, who began to gather at the Tahrir Square in response to facebook posts by an activist.
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN POLITICAL CAMPAIGN
Having examined the origin, perspectives and strength of the social media, let us come to the crux of this paper, which is the role of social networking in political campaigns. It is one American young musical band that sang a song in the 80s, which says, “The youths of today are under heavy manacles.”
Thirty years after that song, I think the youths have released themselves from those manacles or chains through the discovery of social media. The social media was instrumental to the victory of barrack Obama in the US presidential election in 2008 and 2012.
Then even in the 2016 US Presidential election, we saw the social media being put into great use by Donald trump, who defied odds to win the US election despite huge media buy-in by the candidate favoured by the establishment.
Let me say without fear of contradiction that the ability to locate the power of social media is directly related to the ability to win elections in modern times. Democracy is a game of numbers. As such, since a greater number of young people could be found on the social media, the ability to harness this huge demographic population translates to the ability to win this energetic citizenry.
With the social media, the saying that youths are the leaders of tomorrow has become meaningless, because youths are not only the leaders of the modern tools of social inclusion, but also kingmakers. Social media has become the most efficient platform to engage with the productive population of any country and Nigeria is not an exception.
The vibrancy of the youth is at its peak on the social media and this puts the social media at the epicenter of modern political campaigns owing to qualities already enumerated above. Statistics from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reveal that young people in the age bracket stated above form more than 60 per cent of the registered voters.
The level of presence and active engagement of a candidate or political party on the social media has an inverse relationship with the level of its spread and forms to a large extent its acceptability. The social media have also been found to be a veritable tool to test policies and evaluate assimilation of campaign messages.
To ensure that young people participate actively in politics, social media hold the key. I think it would not be out of the way to say that social media has become the special constituency of young people. Despite the challenges of electricity generation and distribution as well as low internet penetration in Nigeria, our young people still devise ingenious ways to show presence in their ward, which is the social media, every second every minute!
I thank you most sincerely for your time and space.