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Impact of Social Media on Kenya’s 2017 General Elections

We all love to hang out with friends using our social media accounts in Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram and so forth. Social media has become one of the most actively used platforms for communication in the country. It is estimated that active Facebook users are approximately 5 million while Twitter users are more than 1.7 million in the local domain.

For a politician, these numbers are music to the ear or a ray of sunlight in the darkest corners of political influence. Social media has changed the dynamics of politics and we are about to experience it firsthand considering that this election comes in the midst of highest social media penetration in Kenya.

As anything world like, social media has its pro’s and con’s. Among the many benefits and drawbacks, the following three stand out as the ones with the most expected impact on 2017 general elections.

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  • Cost of promoting a political party or politician

Election run-ups have been known to cost an arm and a leg for any political aspirant but not anymore. Social media has enabled political aspirants to reach out to their supporters via their official accounts. Whereas outright political tour would cost in the tunes of millions, a Facebook or Twitter advert may reach more supporters at a fraction of that cost.

Though social media use has not eliminated the need of actual campaign tours, it has decreased the amount of time needed for communication between the aspirant and his supporters.

Social media has also allowed political spirants to have a voice apart from what mainstream media taunts.

Recently concluded US election can shed more light on this occurrence. Donald Trump leveraged on his official twitter account to rant out his world changing madness.  He also used the same account to lash out against media houses who he claimed were biased against him.

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  • Propaganda versus the Truth

Although social media has increased the velocity of information transfer, the quality of the content is rarely evaluated for truthfulness. Facebook has been in the lime light for failing to clump down fake news and a recent study by BBC indicated that over 80% of the population cannot differentiate between fake news and real news.

Social media may be used in the coming general elections to spread propaganda about political aspirants. It would be very difficult for the general population to differentiate between fake stories and real stories.

For example with the current government having rampant corruption issues, a corruption related propaganda may resonate with the general population though the government may try to defend itself. The defense would be taken as a status quo.

  • Government Influence/ Regulation / Law

Government hand on social media has already been felt in most countries. Inciting, offensive and provocative information have been pulled down from social media sites while some of the individuals involved have been arrested.

Apart from monitoring, governments can restrict or allow coverage of social media in their jurisdictions citing national security risks.

Ugandan government banned use of social media during their general elections. The seating president claimed that the ban was to avert lies that were intended to incite violence and illegal declaration of election results. A similar trend may occur during Kenya’s general elections if social media proves to be a trouble maker for the ruling government.

As more political aspirants show affinity towards social media marketing, the growing influence of social media may make or break many politicians coming 2017. Structured advertisements on social media would greatly influence voter’s perception of candidates. It would be easier to manipulate the general population to liking a candidate taking that politics is more of an emotional endeavor rather than an intellectual one.

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Posted by Timothy II Aperit

True believer in numbers. Statistics never lie. Bsc Financial Engineering MBA Finance ACCA