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Will social media influence 2017 elections?

By COLLINS MUSANGA | Published Fri, January 29th 2016 at 00:00, Updated January 28th 2016 at 22:58 GMT +3

With the advent of social media, a number of politicians have disregarded conventional methods of campaigning and conveying messages to voters by television, radio, billboards, posters, brochures and at political rallies; avenues that are key to ensuring that messages reach voters and are important for setting a solid foundation for a serious campaign platform.

Faced with a dramatic increase in citizen connectivity made possible by the availability of much less expensive cell phones sporting video, photo and Internet features, politicians are embracing Facebook, WhatsApp, Blogs and Twitter to coordinate and disseminate messages to their audiences.

Top political figures are already competing for followers on social media sites and their comments on Twitter and Facebook are creating ripples and traffic as followers of different contenders take on each other. Consequently, almost all other aspirants for Governor, Senator, Member of Parliament, Member of County Assembly seats have also joined the social media craze.The new system of political communication created by these developments cannot be ignored.

All media houses, for example, have integrated social media into their news practices and their journalists follow events to deliver breaking news so as not to be seen as trailing smart-phone-wielding citizens who have developed the ability to collect and distribute unfolding political events. This has made some commentators argue that the 2017 General Election will be won or lost on social media.

That the internet boom has drastically changed the media scene and how news breaks out as well as the political landscape, is not in doubt. But to argue that social media holds the key to the outcome of the 2017 General Election is stretching it too far.

There are many instances where social media activism has failed to take off, as is the case with Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) hash tags.

Other than framing tired phrases like someone tell so and so, KOT has never come up with a serious agenda or an idea that promotes national unity or good governance.

KOT will accuse Donald Trump of racism but abet tribalism by either taking sides or keeping silent when issues of national importance are being debated. KOT is famous for fighting imaginary enemies like Mugabe’s fake tirades directed at Kenyans.

In Africa for instance, the only harvest social media can be remembered for is the Arab spring uprising whose net benefit is yet to be felt among the populations of those countries. While the uprising managed to topple dictators from power, this was not followed with the formation of stable governments, thus giving room for sectarian wars and the emergence of tribal warlords as is the case in Libya.

The ineffectiveness of social media as a political tool stems from the fact that social media users have been made to believe they can tweet their way to good leadership from the comfort of their homes without taking the pains to indulge in civic education and turning up to vote on the material day. They seek social and political change through less expensive actions, such as joining Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp groups whose formation is not based on any ideology or agenda.Further, young people who grace these social media sites are so besotted, they know it all.

Taking advantage of anonymity created by social media, all they do is hurl insults at the aspirants and social media users. If you thought you can engage these jesters in any discourse, then you will be disappointed.

They don’t see that social media has given them a chance to converse with people they could never have met, leave alone sit down and talk, since they are not equals in intellectual or moral deportment.

For these reasons, it makes more sense to invest in social media as an entertainment, rather than specifically, a political tool to promote political penetration, discussions and good governance.