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The politics of using social media to reach masses

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 16, 2021

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OPINION: Owners of social media platforms also need to create features that will help detect and prevent misinformation and disinformation. In past elections in some parts of the world, social media platforms such as Facebook came under fire, writes Sithembiso Sithole.

As we head to the local government elections on November 1, political leaders are not leaving anything to chance as they campaign on social media to get the electorate to vote for them.

In a time of Covid-19 and tighter restrictions from Level 5-2, political parties had to find innovative ways to reach out to the masses through social media.

Recently we saw One Movement SA Leader Mmusi Maimane hosting a series of Twitter Spaces. A new social media feature to get users to host and engage on any topic, in this case, service delivery issues.

Like I usually say, social media forces necessary change, particularly in the time of a pandemic. Political party leaders who were not active users on social media had to learn how to make use of different social media platforms. Some had to navigate their way on the use of social media tools and features such as Facebook Live, Twitter Spaces and WhatsApp groups.

Using these social media tools and features, political party leaders and organisations shared their content in a form of text, video, audio and pictures to attract electorates. This meant getting organic content that resonates to the electorates.

While there is a great desire to make use of social media to reach out to electorates, there is still a need for political parties, organisations and movements to come up with social media guidelines. This will help prevent incidents that could bring the party into disrepute.

Social media training sessions could come in very handy for political parties and movements as we head to the local government elections.

The IEC also has to provide guidelines on how political party leaders and organisations should conduct themselves on social media.

We have seen some incidents in the past where political party leaders shared content on social media that didn’t resonate with party followers.

In some incidents, politicians and political parties find themselves trending for the wrong reasons. Recently, the DA was in hot water for posting election posters about racism in Phoenix. Many felt that the party was insensitive while others felt that the posters were fuelling racial tensions.

In the previous elections, we witnessed incidents where some political representatives had to be requested to take a break from social media because of the content they shared online, content that was seen bringing the party into disrepute.

While there is a rush to get information and manifestos out there on social media, it is crucial for both electorates and political parties to double check the information that is being shared on social media. We live in a time where misinformation and disinformation is top of the agenda.

There is a great need for social media users to be cautious when it comes to sharing and re-sharing content, particularly content that has the potential to create panic, and unverified information.

Owners of social media platforms also need to create features that will help detect and prevent misinformation and disinformation. In past elections in some parts of the world, social media platforms such as Facebook came under fire.

While there is a buzz for political parties and movements to use social media to reach out to electorates, it is imperative that responsible freedom of speech is encouraged and that censorship is banned. In some parts of Africa, there is a growing trend of governments blocking social media networks during elections or protests. That has a huge impact when it comes to freedom of speech and the rights of ordinary citizens.

Politicians and government officials should not dictate to electorates on what to post on social media platforms when it comes to service delivery issues. Users must be allowed to reflect and interpret what they see as service or lack of service in their communities.

* Sthembiso Sithole is a social media specialist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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