6 years ago

Social media in election campaign  

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Social media is comparatively a new form of communication around the world. This has rapidly grown in importance as a forum for political activism in its diverse forms.

Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube provide new ways to stimulate citizen engagement in political life, where elections and electoral campaigns have a central role. Personal communication via social media brings political parties closer to their potential voters.

An inclusive study by Hannah Byrne O'Morain of Maynoolh University of Ireland suggests that three main motives for using social media during an election campaign are marketing, mobilisation and dialogue. The first motive, around marketing, was to highlight their candidacies as well as the positions of their parties in the public sphere. Mobilisation refers to the use of social media to encourage followers to take part in something, usually to attend rallies, meetings, and to persuade people to vote for them. Lastly, in terms of dialogue, social media presents an opportunity to connect and engage with voters in discussion, as well as receive feedback on political issues.

In Bangladesh, any prominent politician or even head of the government are hardly seen to use social media in critical moments of the country. However, we sporadically witnessed the practice; for example, a party chief's video was uploaded on YouTube begging vote for her party candidate in the last city corporation election. Besides, there had been some stray incidents of creating groups on social media by some enthusiastic youth, most of them for social or cultural purposes. Besides, major political parties in the country have opened their pages on social media in a slapdash manner; obviously, it severely lacks regular updating their activities and purpose. Despite the fact that the young segments among the supporters of the political parties are enthusiastic in the use of social digital media, the party veterans, stalwarts, policymakers and bureaucracy appear to be astoundingly either computer-illiterate or unable to make use of emailing or web browsing.

Statistics show there are nearly 100 million voters in the country.  More than half of the voters are young and almost all of them use internet and social media. In fact, social media has immense impact on the youth community. Therefore, election campaigners can exert the potential of social media to grab the attention of a large portion of the voters. A recent report of the global Internet forum, 'Alliance for Affordable Internet', has placed Bangladesh at 33 in a list of 55 developing and underdeveloped countries. The report revealed that poverty is the most crucial factor for Bangladesh remaining behind in Internet use.

As social media have dramatically transformed the Internet from a mere information source to an election battlefield, sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube played prominent roles in the local elections held in recent times. The mayoral candidates of two city corporations in Dhaka, Chittagong City Corporation as well as the chairman and member candidates in union parishad (UP) elections used social media, particularly the Facebook and smart phone, in their digital election campaign. In the span of two years the rise of social media tools - most notably, Facebook which is used by an estimated 10.8 million people - became an ideal election platform to engage voters effectively.  The mayoral and ward councillor candidates, however, paid more emphasis on door-to-door campaign for wooing the voters.

Tracking what potential voters say on social media, can provide real-time feedback in digital election campaign to find out what is working and what is not. The social media is now being widely used to communicate with people, gain support and mobilise the voters. Twitter has become a big source for election news and traditional media is lagging far behind. The idea that an election candidate can send a tweet to his voters and get response instantaneously is revolutionary.

However, not all things of social media are like gospel truths.  A bout of negative posts can frustrate an audience.  Inflammatory posts and disinformation can be damaging for a candidate. Be that as it may, the negative aspects of social media always are overshadowed by its beneficial effects.

Interaction is all too crucial for politicians to keep in touch with supporters, so candidates should increase their supporter base on social media through constant interaction. Posts should not contain just textual information but should also be enriched with image, graphics, and animation, videos to liven up and make them more interactive and effective so that these create appeal to a variety of voters. Sometimes a discussion on social media posts can become negative and it is important to bring a halt when it is becoming counter-intuitive. Also, it is wise not to feed the trolls or fake elements. Finally, social media posts containing electoral matters must be authorised by competent sources.

The Election Commission (EC) should hold discussions with cyber experts to monitor and regulate how candidates and political parties use social networking sites during election campaigns. EC can  form a steering committee, which will be set up to ensure effective implementation of the election code of conduct, to ensure free and fair elections.

The revolution in social media is rapidly changing the world and that includes elections. Social networks can be a viable way to promote an election campaign for a candidate, especially an independent one.

The writer is Election Officer, Election Commission

Secretariat, Bangladesh.

[email protected]

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