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  There have been growing claims that elections are not won on social media, especially in Nigeria. But how true is this? To begin with, does social media influence elections? Of course; Social networks began to play a fundamental role in determining elections worldwide, as early as 2008 during Barack Obama’s campaign in the United States. Studies attributed Barrack Obama’s victory to social media, especially Facebook.
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Indeed, political scientists and pundits have argued that social media is now a tool for measuring good governance and influencing politics. Not surprisingly, the term “netizens” has entered mainstream political and social studies to describe the Internet and social media users who speak and act on social and political issues based on the influence and control of social media networks. Social media have been used as a tool for mobilization and social movements. A prime example is the 2010 Arab Spring, which disrupted and changed corrupt regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. The widespread change began with social mobilization on Facebook and Twitter. But can we say the same about Nigeria? According to a 2020 report from the Nigerian Telecommunications Commission, there are 190,475,494 mobile phone users and more than 100,000 people are active Facebook users. In 2015, when the Muhammadu Buhari administration replaced incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, scholars and pundits argued for the role of social media in Buhari’s victory. In the years leading up to the 2015 general election, members of the then oppositions consisting of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and their associates used social media to spread misinformation that greatly influenced the outcome of the election.
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Some argued that the opposition at the time was making propaganda based on the use of social networks. Indeed, social media was used to spread fear, panic, and hate speech during the 2015 election season. The history of hate speech on a mainstream level on social media began between 2014 and 2015, mostly promoted by the then opposition parties of APC and CPC. The atmosphere became tense, and part of the country threatened rumors of war if the opposition failed to win the elections. The consequence of this threat was that the Internet caught fire and further divided the country along ethnic and religious lines. The truth remains: social media propaganda helped APC rise to power.  The power of social media was also seen when the Buhari administration, between June 5, 2021, and January 13, 2022, banned Twitter. The government felt that the corporate existence of Nigeria was threatened by so much disinformation and hate speech spread on social media. Furthermore, social media has galvanized people against the Nigerian government. A perfect example was the popular #EndSARS movement that started on social media and then moved to the streets. The movement saw over a million people march across the country calling for a ban on SARS, a security unit within the Nigerian Police Force, as well as total reform of the police system. The movement shook the nation to its foundations and the Buhari government called the move an uprising.
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To this end, claims that the social media tool cannot be used to determine the outcome of Nigerian elections are misleading. The skeptics have their arguments, though: They argue that the electoral victory is more grassroots, and a lot of grassroots people aren’t on social media. This is not entirely true. So why do political candidates spend millions of naira on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram campaigns? Even the elites know that a lot happens in the media. A striking example of the effect of social media was the events surrounding Peter Obi, a presidential hopeful, and his move to a lesser-known political party, the Labor Party. The implication of this was that the party’s website crashed following huge traffic. Second, the party’s official Twitter account soared from 2,000 followers to 70,000 followers in 24 hours. The party never expected it. He was caught off guard.  Finally, interesting studies have shown that basic people are on social media like Facebook. This is especially true when there are thousands of users uploading or capturing live events in rural areas. Perhaps today, the effect of social media on elections in Nigeria may not have an impact, but in the upcoming elections, particularly in 2027 and beyond, social media can decide who gets what, when, and how. Featured Image Source: Politics in Nigeria and Social Media|Facebook
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This article was first published on 1st June 2022


Nnaemeka is an academic scholar with a degree in History and International Studies from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is also a creative writer, content creator, storyteller, and social analyst.

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