Angola, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Liberia will hold general elections this and next year, and the use of technology will play a critical role in deciding the outcome.
The introduction of ICT into the electoral process is generating interest and concern among voters and practitioners globally.
Every year, new technologies and tools are introduced to the market from basic office automation to more sophisticated data processing tools with the aim of improving the electoral process.
The substantial growth of mobile technology and devices have brought empowerment to people and communities. Social media is now being seen as a critical tool to encourage dialogue and change the relationship between the electorate and politicians.
Where radio and television have traditionally played substantial roles during an election period because of their ability to communicate messages to the masses, the changing landscape of communication as a result of mobile technology and social media allows sharing and connectivity between people and a back and forth communication between government and citizens. This has both positive and negative consequences for candidates and how they manage electoral campaigns but it's something that candidates can no longer ignore.
Here are 6 ways in which social media has changed politics:
1. Campaigns are investing more in digital which costs much less than traditional advertising
2. With social media you can get your message across to many readers quickly and easily, facilitate two-way communication to happen and garner support. Voters feel heard, candidates can be made accountable for what they publish online and there's a greater level of transparency. Your message can also be delivered in a variety of ways - images, editorial, video, live streaming.
3. With social media, you can also better identify your supporters and detractors and their followings, reaching out to them specifically and develop campaign tactics which speak directly to them and their concerns.
4. Social media can drive instant action - with the click of a button, money can be donated, polls completed, petitions signed, and RSVP’s sent
5. Real -time technology can be used to support winning election campaigns—mass-scale information gives political candidates an understanding of what exactly drives public opinion at any given moment. State-of-the-art platforms can be developed to refine messaging, deploy effective direct marketing campaigns and engage voters in new and innovative ways—creating a competitive and winning edge.
6. Africa’s youth are often used as pawns in the political game by veteran politicians and the continent still has a long way to go to secure youth rights and remove barriers for younger political candidates. The youth will remain the continent’s greatest asset but in order for these nations to continue along the path of political and economic development, future leaders must be developed and the youth must continue to become invested in the political future of their countries. Technology, in particular social media, can play a significant role in this development.
Whilst social media can serve as an alternative platform to traditional media, the risk of the spreading of mis-information cannot be denied so whilst its usage is encouraged, it is equally as important to ensure that it is not a medium that is solely relied upon or used in isolation for both the candidates and the electorate.
What will be interesting to see is how candidates in the forthcoming elections in Angola, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Liberia leverage the power of social to create successful campaigns....we'll be watching!