2011 and the changing face of social media

Last week was an eventful one for President Goodluck Jonathan’s Facebook fans. Those online were privileged to receive first hand on their walls, the president’s declaration that he’ll run in the forthcoming 2011 elections.

To his ardent supporters, he had finally laid to rest speculations that, given his political inexperience, he may not run, but chicken out in the face of ‘heavyweights’ like the former military president, Ibrahim Babangida.

But he baffled all when on September 15, he opened a Facebook page, exactly four months after he made the promise at the 26th Uniport’s convocation.

This move to many, has opened up new vistas for politicians in political permutations.

Perhaps buoyed by Obama’s successful use of Facebook to win the United States elections, Nigerian politicians are indeed, gradually taking their campaigns to the social networking sites and other online platforms.

Since it is election time, political aspirants are disposing of all means to gear up their support base, following the realisation that electioneering requires more than just handshakes and physical persuasion.

In the last three years, the rise of MySpace, Facebook, and other social-networking sites has made controlled broa!s have become powerful platforms with citizen journalists armed with video cameras beginning to show up everywhere.

Following this, politicians want to check the negative publicity that may come from any of the networks by reaching out to sites and blogs that can affect their prospects.

President Goodluck Jonathan joined the fray earlier this year when he promised at the 26th convocation of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) that he would open a Facebook page to interact with millions of Nigerians.

He made good his promise when he set up the page: "Today, in fulfillment of the promise I made at the 26th convocation of the University of Port Harcourt on Saturday, May 15, 2010, I have created a Facebook fan page to interact with Nigerians.

"As I said on that day, there is an unchallengeable power of good in the Nigerian nation and her youth and through this medium I …want Nigerians to give me the privilege of relating with them without the trappings of office."

And on September 15, 2010, exactly four months after he set up the page, he declared his interest to contest for the number one position in the country.

President Jonathan, apparently aware of the tremendous impact of social networking sites, chose to bid his electoral fortune through the digital interface.

To an untrained mind, such moves could mean that Jonathan was just signing into a vogue. Now, the President has made a bargain—getting for cheap, the attention of millions of Nigerian electorates, and also the whole wide world

He said, "If I am elected president in 2011, I will make a covenant with you the Nigerian people to always do right…to tell you the truth at all times, to carry you along and, most importantly, to listen to you, fellow citizens in our communities and also those of you on this page."

It was a most strategic plan to shore up followership ahead of the 2011 election.

In May, Jonathan said, "The urgent task now is to strengthen and consolidate our young democracy so that tomorrow’s generations could be free to focus on contributing to other compelling matters of human civilisation.

"When we came into office in May 2007, our commitment was to restore electoral integrity by reforming the electoral guidelines, structures and relevant parts of the constitution dealing with votes.

"I am happy to note that the discourse and demand for free and fair elections are a nationwide current that cannot be stopped. Once again, I commit myself to work with all Nigerians, especially the youths to bring the sad days of electoral malfeasance to an end.

"As we approach the end of this administration, our first task will be to register to vote as soon as the voters’ register in every ward in our country is opened.

"Our second task is to vote when the time comes. The connection between voting and the conditions for sustainable development is strong.

"Once we can successfully prevent a few people from determining the outcome of elections, all elected leaders immediately come into the service of the general good."

As he writes, he faces up over 210,000 fans’ posts.

On the Facebook site, a post by Onyinye Iheaku said: Mr president,you most likely won’t read this. Not that I blame you…this is the 2,086th comment afterall.I just want to say that I am really proud of you for opening up an avenue to communicate with the populace.This shows me that (1) you are at home with modern means of communication and networking therefore you are a forward thinker and (2)You actually want to feel the real pulse of the nation. So I will not listen to that cynical voice in my head that is saying that this is probably another gimmick to get you reelected come 2011, rather I will think positive and believe that change is finally coming.God bless you.

Another post by Sa’id Ahmad said: Mr. President. The task you have with the Nigerian project is vast, but I will tell you our problems: Greed, selfishness, tribalism, indiscipline among others. You must free Nigerians form poverty, and strive to unite us. This can be achieved if you work with the masses. Keep your distance from the so called elites. They are the Nigerian problem. They are not only greedy and selfish, but they will not stop until we stop giving false honours, chieftancy titles and recognition to insincere wealth.

Thus, the Internet, Web-based campaigning, and other new media technologies are increasing the speed and quality of political communication with candidates sensing the political shift to the new media venturing into cyberspace, driven by a new maxim: To find voters, look online.

Commenting on the trend, the President, Nigeria Internet Group, Lanre Ajayi said, "ICT is known to be a driver of other sectors of the economy and is very critical to the development of the country.

"As it is now, our job has been made pretty easy because the president understand the role of ICT in driving the economy. He has demonstrated this by bringing it into his campaign.

"This will further promote the concept of e-governance, making government available online. I consider it a welcome development as it will help position ICT for further development

Executive Vice-President, Certified Institute of Marketing Communications, Prince Olusiji Oyewole, said politicians cannot afford to ignore the media of online communications considering the impact of blogs and other social-networking sites with a huge number of potential voters.

To reach the elites, Oyewole said politicians have to turn to the campaigning possibilities offered by modern information technologies. According to him, Facebook is a medium for Internet-savvy supporters.

He said the sites involve ‘person-to-person-to-person’ networking and its effect on campaigns can affect candidates positively or negatively, requiring them to pay adequate attention to the media.

He added that politicians need this method to raise awareness for their campaigns just by having links to social networks.

A computer specialist at Systemtech Services Limited, Mr. Ezichi Nkwoma noted that online political campaigns inspired by popular social networks such as Facebook, have revolutionised the use of the Web as a political tool.

He said it will help politicians reach their voters in a ‘personal’ way, adding that the Internet is a powerful tool for reaching a vast number of people.

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, President GoodLuck Jonathan and some other notable politicians are deploying Internet as a medium to reach Nigerians.

Analysts believe the presence of President Jonathan is rubbing off positively on his presidential ambition. He made his intentions of contesting the forthcoming elections first known on his Facebok page.

He has also deployed the use of online bulk SMS to augment other campaign techniques in order reach electorates ahead of the elections.

The SMS reads: "The time for transformation is here. I commit to steering the country in the direction of sustainable change and development. Jonathan Goodluck. Sender J. Goodluck."

There is, however, little use of Twitter, a micro-blogging social network that allows its users to send and read instantaneous updates, known as ‘Tweets,’ by politicians, though another contender in the 2011 race, Ibrahim Babangida uses this network to reach Nigerians.

Tweets are short messages of up to 140 characters in length which are displayed on the users’ profile page and sent to the users’ followers who have subscribed to them.

The added value of tweeting indeed does not come from the quantity of followers, but from the quality of tweets.

The challenge facing local politicians though is that, though the Internet is one of the best technologies in the world, there are communities and individuals which are not using it.

Because of this barrier, it is difficult to predict what impact social networks can have on political campaigns with a large number of voters located in the villages, without Internet access.

President of the National Association of Telecommunications subscribers (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, while commending the president for appreciating the role of ICT in national development, urged him not to leave out people in the rural areas, but to reach out to them through the regular campaign mechanisms.

The story is simply unbelievable. Ten years ago, political consultants and candidates touted the promise of the Internet and e-mail in changing the face of campaigns.? As with most innovations, proponents of web-based campaigning oversold the medium, suggesting that, within a year or two, campaigns would raise most of their money, and spend much of their time, exclusively online.

While those pundits were wrong about the Internet ending fundraising direct mail, in-person grassroots campaigning, and huge amounts of candidate travel, they were right about one thing: the Internet did eventually change the way candidates campaign.
 

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