Use of social media in SA elections

from news24 – Duncan Alfreds

The use of social media is increasingly true for elections in Africa, but the use of the platform has to conform to where the constituency is, an expert has said.
“President Goodluck Jonathan effectively used Facebook and other social media to get re-elected in Nigeria and we’re seeing that this is increasingly true for elections in Africa,” social media consultant for Afrosocialmedia Samantha Fleming told News24.

Fleming was formerly with Idasa and has been following the application of social media in the political space closely. She previously warned political parties to take social media seriously.

She said that parties in SA don’t yet see it as the only way to win elections, and that opening political dialogue on social media platforms was not without risk.

“The difficulty for parties is that it’s something they have to maintain and it’s very public – they have to respond to that,” Fleming said.

Political parties

With the South African Municipal Election just days away, political parties have moved their campaigns into high gear, but on social networks, smaller parties are virtually invisible.

“In many ways it [the campaign] feels like a two-horse race. The DA and the ANC are the only ones people are watching. I see very little of the smaller parties on social media, but perhaps it’s because putting yourself out there, people are going to engage,” said Fleming.

Recently, President Jacob Zuma officially confirmed his presence on Twitter, a relative latecomer to the micro-blogging site that rival Helen Zille of the DA has been using for some time.

“It appears that the DA modelled their campaign on [US President Barack] Obama’s successful social media campaign.

“The ANC was late on that band wagon. They used something called Migg33, but there wasn’t much engagement. I don’t think MXit wants politics on their site,” Fleming said.

While Migg33 is a global chat application, MXit has a massive South African footprint, and this is particularly relevant as many South Africans access the web via mobile devices like cellphones.

Mobile access

Fleming said that the rise of mobile access for the internet forced politicians to respond to the platforms to reach potential voters.

“Increasingly, social media is a lot more mobile; most poor people won’t have a smartphone, so probably won’t be on Twitter, but social media is only going to grow.”

But social media success does not necessarily result in votes and Fleming warned that political parties would still have to engage directly with communities.

“Clicking on a ‘like’ button doesn’t translate into a vote or, in the commercial sphere, a sale. It’s a difficult thing for political parties.”