US Facebook Elections 2008
President Obama came to power in 2008 on the back of a carefully thought-through campaign which had social media as an integral part. He is the first President voted to the White House riding on the power of the web. It was an election dubbed in some quarters as the “Facebook Elections”. David Carr of the New York Times said in a piece that “Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new.
Instead, by bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans”. Yes the US is streets ahead of us technologically and they rank number one in terms of the global Facebook user population with almost 163 million users and still the fastest growing Facebook country as of today Wednesday August 22, 2012; true.
Ghana’s December 2012 elections may just be our own Facebook Elections
A Ghana Outlook
There are currently 1,397,520 Facebook users in Ghana and according to the Ghana Statistical Service, the official voting population in Ghana (18 years and above), is 13.63 million. According to socialbakers.com, “social networking statistics show that Facebook penetration in Ghana is 5.74% compared to the country's population and 107.75% in relation to number of Internet users. The total number of Facebook users in Ghana is reaching 1,397,520 and grew by more than 186, 040 in the last 6 months”. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Facebook users are below the age of 34 and there are 69% male users and 31% female users in Ghana.
Paa Kwesi Nduom of the Progressive Peoples’ Party has a sponsored page on Facebook (his party actually has a well managed page as well). Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party has a properly manned page as well. John Mahama does as well. For a President whose very first speech was delivered via a Samsung Tablet instead of the regular A4 sheets, it would have been strange if he did not. Dr. Abu Sakara of the Convention People’s Party, Hassan Ayariga of the Peoples’ National Convention all have pages on Michael Zukerberg’s virtual world. As has been the flaw with Facebook, there are other pseudo-sites so it gets difficult to determine which of the sites are official, except for Nduom whose is sponsored and thus stands out.
Social Media Agents
Most parties, particularly the NDC and NPP have ‘communicators’ of sorts who are being paid to tout their party’s credentials or simply engage in acts to vilify their opponents. Some of these folks are recognized party peoples whiles others are clearly strong sympathizers. There is an assertion that some of these political parties actually have a planned social media engagement plan. That is truly commendable.
These party people, both the paid and the strong supporters adopt all kinds of posture in their engagement on Facebook. These range from putting up posts that hail their candidates and party as the best thing to have ever happened to this country with flawless policies, characters and personalities unknown to the human race. They then use an equal amount of energy and verve to castigate their opponents and make them look like filth that do not even deserve to breath the same air as they do. The ‘rents’ also make it a point to jump on anyone who dares share a dissenting view. If you disagree on an issue the NPP supports, then quickly you are labeled a ‘greedy bastard’; if you share a different view from the NDC, then you become a ‘capitalist propagandist of the NPP’ even though the NDC is the one which has legitimized propaganda by having a dedicated secretary for it.
It is important to mention also that there are a lot of politically active Ghanaians who do not serve as agents or “rents” (to borrow my friend Kojo Anan Ankomah’s lexicon) but are Ghanaians with strong views and are not afraid to express them. The thing is, most of us on election days walk to our polling station, pick our ballots and then when we enter the booths, we cast a vote for someone belonging to a political party. So no one has ever said that those who express seemingly neutral views do not make a choice on who to vote for. However what set these people apart is that when they tackle an issue via wall posts or articles, they deal with issues and facts without necessarily taking party lines. In other words, it is possible to have someone lash out at the NDC over one thing and then do likewise to the NPP when they do same.
There are Ghanaians who care about Ghana and will say their mind regardless of who they will vote for on December 7.
It is the rather comical and mediocre thinking of these agents which set me up with this theory path.
Building the Theory
I have a huge problem with the ‘rents’ on Facebook. It makes no sense to me when a political ‘rent’ gets excited that his party people praise him for dissing an opponent and propagating untruth, hatred and an unGhanaian posture all in the name of politics.
Figures from our elections over the past 3 or 4 polls indicate that the NPP and NDC are virtually assured of their 40% plus of votes cast. But we know that in Ghana one needs to win 50% plus one to win an election. So indeed the 8% to 10% who determine who wins are those who matter!
So what sense is it that a political party agent on Facebook will revel in the praises of his own ilk when those votes he already has whiles chastising the few whose votes they will need to win the polls?
My theory of Applied Common Sense is that “a political party is better of engaging positively with elements that clearly do not support them or share their views or seem undecided instead of reveling in the vile praises of its ilk whose votes they already have”.
It is common sense, or is it not?
I see from my nearly 4000 ‘friends’ on Facebook that there are some who have unveiled themselves as party agents and do the bidding of their beloved party. These people see nothing wrong with whatever any member of their party do. For instance the NPP ones defended the irresponsible comments of Kennedy Agyapong and saw absolutely nothing wrong with it. They hailed Kofi Jumah for spewing rubbish and had only high-flowered praises for the actions of their people. The NDC ones will also defend General Mosquito even when he insults the Church and they will defend anything and everything the Akatamanso family does.
Ironically all these people will in one-on-one conversations tell you ‘chaley wanna man no force kraaaa ooo’. So who do they want to fool with their illogical and incomprehensible utterances? My little experience in corporate communications and indeed mass communications tells me that if I were an agent of a political party with a desire to win votes for my party or candidate, my postings and posture will be to appeal to those who are clearly not on my side or do not believe in the dreams and aspirations of my candidate. It makes no sense whatsoever to excite one’s self with the praises of one’s’ own party people whiles living in the rather bizarre dream that your posture will win you any votes.
The ‘Facebook Generation’ voter is discerning and reads widely and is able to decipher who is spewing garbage for political reasons and who is making sense. The FBG voter knows who on Facebook is been reasonable and advancing cogent points in his postings and the one who is engaged in ridiculous propaganda. That voter would not get fooled by seeing photo-shopped images or side issues that do not contribute to an on-going debate.
That voter also knows it when party ‘rents’ go on their tagging spree calling everyone else names because they disagree with them.
By Kwame Gyan