Social Media has rapidly grown in importance as a forum for political activism in its different forms in Nigeria. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp have provided new ways to stimulate citizen engagement in political life. It is a tool, which is effective at reaching a global audience and therefore exerts tremendous influence.
Personal communication via social media, has to an extent, brought the government closer to the citizens. It has allowed politicians communicate faster and reach citizens in a more targeted manner and vice versa, without the intermediate role of mass media. Reactions, feedback, conversations and debates are generated online as well as support and participation for offline events. Messages posted to personal networks are multiplied when shared, which allows new audiences to be reached.
A good example of the impact of social media was in when the international community trended the #BringBackOurGirls Hashtag to speak up for the missing Chibok girls. Another example was the #EndSARS Hashtag that saw people speak up against police brutality. These online protests have gone a long way in causing elected officials to respond to pressing issues immediately. Many social media handles run projects geared towards bringing the government to the people and actually promoting engagement.
With the recent attempts by politicians to silence dissenting voices on social media via the Social Media Bill and Hate Speech Bill respectively, it would mean that the government takes control over what is shared online and this will take our democracy a few steps back.
The media influences politics by helping to shape public opinion and millennials tend to “bump into” political information instead of actively seeking it, and they’re undeniably influenced by what they see online. It would be foolish for politicians not to tap into this well of communication. Social media has opened up a new way for people to communicate with each other and exchange views, report crime, comment on policy, or petition for change.
Social media has made things so simplified that there are now proposals for internet voting, which could lead to more people participating in elections. This could make social media even more influential, as people could literally vote moments after reading the latest comments or links they found on Facebook or Twitter.
As mentioned earlier we have to be careful and not allow the simplified “online politics” to be the main vehicle of political discourse. Globalization and technological innovation is shaping our world into a place like we have never seen before, with the conduct of politics being in constant evolution too. Polling techniques on social media will become more common and, hopefully, more accurate if. More virtual political rallies and town halls will take place. As social media becomes ever more popular, its impact on politics will only increase over time. It will be interesting to observe how this plays out and take full advantage of it.