THE EFFECT OF SOCIAL MEDIA ON VOTING BEHAVIOUR IN NIGERIA (A CASE STUDY OF SELECTED VOTERS IN LAGOS)
BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The advent of internet and technology has exposed majority of the global population to different interactive platforms on which different kinds of information is exchanged which might significantly have effect on human behaviour, decision and judgment (CES, 2012). Social media are new information network and information technology using a form of communication utilizing interactive and user-produced content, and interpersonal relationships are created and maintained. The emergence of the Internet as the new mass medium of the 21st century now changes the mass media substantially. Information can be distributed at high speed, low cost, and broad scope and as a result, there is egalitarian access to the production and the consumption of news (Prat and Strömberg, 2011)
Today’s social media has made the world a “global village”, with the quick transfer of information overriding the challenges of time and distance (Friedman, 2007). Social media’s has gradually become one of the important means of influencing the society and this influence is based exclusively on its social aspects of interaction and participation. As social media gains more popularity and scope, its impact on voters’ political and cultural perceptions cannot be underestimated as social media practically influences the way users interact, communicate and make decisions on social, cultural, and political issues in today’s world.
Voting behavior is a form of political behavior exhibited by electorates which can be influenced by a lot of factors ranging from emotional, ethnicity, religion leading them to make certain decisions. Various factors such as gender, race, culture or religion go a long way in affecting the way a voter behaves and the decision he makes as regards selection of a candidate of his choice. However, key external factors may also influence a voter’s behaviour such as political socialization, socio-cultural views, tolerance of diverse political views and the media, internet inclusive. The effect of these influences on voting behavior is dependent on attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and the source of available information to the voter.
The social media has become a powerful medium which may affect voting behavior because of its potential to provide direct and cheap access to the production and consumption of current information at any part of the world without editorial filtering (Sunstein, 2001). Not only do social media provide information about political affiliations, candidates and their party manifestoes, it also provides a platform through which voters across cultural divides can relate and interact with themselves on issues about these candidates.
As evidenced by the recent March 28th Presidential elections in Nigeria, political parties, including the two prominent parties took to social media platforms such as online networking sites, blogs, mobile newspapers, news ads, etc. to campaign and mobilize not only youths but all class of internet users to vote for them. This brought about a variety of interesting news and drama online providing opportunity for users to read, respond, interact, argue and trash out issues online. Twitter, facebook, blogs, online newspapers etc. became platforms for people to air their thoughts on various candidates, and sway others towards their line of thinking with various debates, hashtags and online campaigns. This brought all Nigerians together irrespective of political divide, ethnicity and religion on national issues.
Nearly every political party in the country used social media to campaign and advance its plans, message and manifestoes to supporters including advertising, mobilization and organizing in all the states of the federation, and even fundraising. Facebook, YouTube and especially Twitter were used to let voters know how each party or particular candidate felt about important national issues ranging from security to power. Hence social media became powerful enough to influence voter decisions and choices as many voters who had fixed their minds and conscience on voting a particular party or candidate began to change their minds based on certain information or idea they got online about the party or candidate. Information gotten by a particular voter was also not static, as the same voter would use several internet tools and buttons to broadcast same message to other voters like him through medium such as blogs, facebook, Nairaland, chat rooms etc. in order to influence them.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The use of emotional appeals in political campaigns to increase support for a candidate or decrease support for a challenger is a widely recognized practice and a common element of any campaign strategy (Brader, T. 2006). Campaigns often seek to instill positive emotions such as zeal and hopefulness about their candidate to improve turnout and political activism while seeking to raise fear and anxiety about the opposition. Zeal tends to reinforce preference for the candidate and party, while fear and anxiety interrupt voter behavioral patterns and leads individual voters to look for new sources of information on divergent political issues (Marcus et al, 2000). Sources of information available to a voter vary widely including the traditional media, TV, radio and newspapers. However, with the advent of online social media forum, most voters can access information, debate on the information and also give feedback on his own views, opinions and expectations from the party and candidate.
Although the social media has helped in increasing the popularity of candidates and their parties, it has the capacity to make or mar their chances and voter’s perception of the party or candidates. Rumors, falsehood, propaganda and derogatory information about individual candidates or parties are commonplace online and spread faster than anticipated, often with disastrous outcomes. This is largely attributed to the lack of editorial filtering, and the anonymity of most online users. The internet encourages anonymity of its users, which means that those who write and comment often use nicknames or aliases. Hence, anonymity provides an excellent opportunity for writing false stories or spreading rumors about candidates and their parties and this often leads to rancor fear and anxiety about the opposition party.
This has a huge influence on voter behaviour, as most voters who read stories online have a tendency to believe such stories without crosschecking facts and take decisions based on this propaganda. This is a widely known fact among political parties and they use it to their advantage in bringing down their opponents. Previous research has found that it is possible to influence a person’ attitudes toward a political candidate using carefully crafted information about such candidate online, which in turn may influence the voter’s behavior towards the candidate. Social media can also be used by various parties to propagate false news and propaganda about the opposition in order to disfavor such party or candidate in the eyes of the electorates while exonerating theirs. This has a huge influence on voter behaviour as many voters make decisions based on such news they read online.
Furthermore, social media has made voters privy to any kind of information about politicians and their lives as there are no longer any isolated places or hiding holes. The private and public lives of society’s most influential figures including politicians have been made public online. This is because in today’s world, once a politician declares for a post, his entire life including his educational background, his family, his job and any past mistakes or excesses are made public on social media platforms for people to comment, discuss and publicly judge. Many politicians have been found in compromising positions with their words or phrase taken out of context and magnified to huge proportions by opposition parties in order to discredit them.
Many atimes, people go to the extent of recording private conversations or actions of these candidates and make the recorded audio or video public on various social media platforms such as Youtube quickly, with a view to elicit response and vicious backlash from voters and other online users. The belief is that it will go a long way in influencing voter’s behaviour and turning such voter against the candidate since the voter can now judgmentally make decisions about the candidate based on what he said, did or other information about him or her. Even though, such information are refuted sometimes by the concerned party or individual, it remains valid in the minds of many voters who may have made up their mind already or simply are not aware of the true situation.
1.3 AIM AND OBJECTIVES
The general objective of this study is to determine the effect of social media on voter’s behaviour in Lagos State. The specific objectives are;
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
In order to enable the researcher assess the effect of social media on voter behaviour in Lagos state, the following hypotheses will be tested:
HA: Social media has effect on voter behaviour in Lagos state.
1.6 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study will help beam the searchlight on the impact of social media on voter’s behaviour, the decisions they make and elections as a whole based on the information available to voters on the internet. It will also enlighten relevant stakeholders such as political parties, candidates, and even the civil society on how social media can bring about awareness and campaign opportunities if properly utilized.
This research study will help stakeholders understand that maintaining a good and healthy profile online with a cordial relationship between the party and voters can positively influence voter’s behaviour. Lastly, this research work will add to the body of knowledge on the already existing scholarly materials on the impact of social media on voter behaviour.
1.7 SCOPE/LIMITATION OF STUDY
This study will examine the impact of social media on voter behaviour in Lagos state with special reference to the actual influence it has on vote’s behaviour either positive or negative and the factors determining the behaviour and attitudes that an ordinary voter adopts based on available information gotten online.
1.8 DEFINITION OF TERMS
Voter: a person who has attained the voting age and has the right to vote for a candidate in an election
Social media: are computer mediated tools that allow people to create, share or
exchange information, ideas and pictures/videos in virtual communities and online networks
Behaviour: is the range of actions and mannerisms made by individuals in
conjunction with themselves or their environment.
Internet: an interconnected group of computer networks allowing for electronic
Election: the formal process of selecting a person for public office or of
accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting.
Campaign: an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group