HomeOpinion & AnalysisPolitical players should embrace social media

Political players should embrace social media

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By Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi

NOW that it is confirmed that Zimbabwe dominates mobile phone usage in the Southern African Development Community region, it is time for the current and potential political players to start riding on this device usage.

In 2023 it is projected that 75% of voters will be youths, compared to 2013 when 64% of voters were young people.

There will be two million teens who will have turned or will be turning 18 by 2023 and as such they will be potential first-time voters.

Zimbabwe’s political parties spend millions of dollars on electioneering with more than 70% of that budget going towards advertising.

This kind of extraordinary spending highlights just how much cash it takes to run for public office in Zimbabwe and why political newcomers find it difficult to gain momentum at the polls without connections to influential sponsors with deep pockets.

This is why up to 90% of political player incumbents are re-elected in what research calls “the incumbency advantage”.

But with the introduction of social media, the game has completely changed, allowing incumbents and newcomers alike to speak directly to their potential voters and existing constituents on everything from policy to development and future plans.

Former American President Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate to effectively use cyberspace and social media as the medium of choice, which was still nascent during his 2008 bid, and then his successor Donald Trump adopted the use of Twitter almost daily to express himself without the filter of traditional media.

Social media has helped to level the playing field in politics, where money and access to formal communication channels pose huge barriers to entrants.

Never in the history of Zimbabwe have politicians been so accessible to the public.

If you look at the way politicians communicate today, especially opposition players who are not given equal access on traditional media platforms to air their views, it is now very different from the way they used to communicate five, 10 years ago.

They used to speak through the official spokesperson or they would be on TV or radio. They would be in print or online newspapers.

Today, they communicate through spaces like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp.

These have been the mode of communication in a country where we have one TV station and the majority of radio stations are controlled  by the government.

As we head towards the 2023 elections, Zimbabweans will certainly experience a lot of radio and television adverts and plenty of posters and fliers.

As a way to reach this new generation of voters, there will only be one effective mode of communication — that is the cyberspace that includes having a functional website and social media platforms.

New data from the “July 2020 Stat Shot” report released by  “Hootsuite” and “We are Social” found that the world now has 3,96 billion active social media users, more than half the world’s total population and four in 10 users are spending more time than ever on social media.

The fact that our youths spend most of their time on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp, makes it easy to see why social media is where political candidates need to turn to, to reach the younger voters.

Anyone who is trying to reach the younger generation of voters is making the majority of that effort through social media channels.

Both rural and urban youths are now resorting to social media to discuss politics and making this the main platform from where they share ideas.

Today’s challenges have created an environment where the younger generation is becoming more politically involved and has a serious distrust of mainstream platforms like radio and TV.

Social media has proven to be a place for opinion sharing among peers and for emerging media platforms to gain traction and reach new audiences.

Young internet and social media users are more likely to trust posting on social media and are more comfortable to comment unlike being asked to comment on TV or radio.

The 2023 election will be the first opportunity for many youths to vote.

They have seen how past elections have been manipulated and how it has been used to sow distrust and spread disinformation.

Norton Member of Parliament Temba Mliswa has proved that you do not need to have lots of money, big fundraisers and many supporters to be able to communicate with your constituency on any social media platform.

He has effectively used Twitter to tell his constituents who he is, his values and what they are.

He talked about fitness routine, his favourite sports, the favourite place to go to in Norton.

He has also talked about his policies and what he hopes to achieve if he is re-elected into office.

Would he have done this if he had  no access to WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? This is how cyberspace and social media will transform the 2023 election landscape

If Zimbabweans can learn anything from the US presidential campaign, such as the campaign leading to the 2016 US presidential elections, it is that political online presence and social media platforms are the most influential digital channels to get voters involved during political campaigns.

To use online presence and social media effectively, the candidates must share their political candidate’s story on multiple platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

It is estimated that the 2023 presidential candidates, both past and present, will spend approximately US$40 million on billboards, TV, radio with over half of the expenditure projected to go to social media.

So the question is, who is winning the battle for online followers?

Regardless of who ultimately proves victorious in their quest to become the President, one thing is clear, cyber campaign and social media will continue to be the kings of the campaign trail for years to come.

  • Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi is a technology enthusiast and chairperson of the Zimbabwe Information and Technology Division, a branch of the Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers

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