The Politics of Using Social Media to Reach the Masses

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NOTICE: Owners of social media platforms should also create features that will help detect and prevent misinformation and misinformation. In past elections in some parts of the world, social media platforms such as Facebook have come under fire, writes Sithembiso Sithole.

As we head towards the local elections on November 1, political leaders are leaving nothing to chance as they campaign on social media to get the electorate to vote for them.

In an era of Covid-19 and tighter Tier 5-2 restrictions, political parties have had to find innovative ways to reach the masses through social media.

Recently, we saw Mmusi Maimane, leader of One Movement SA, host 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.

As I usually say, social media is forcing necessary changes, especially during a pandemic. Leaders of political parties who were not active social media users had to learn how to use different social media platforms. Some have had to make their way into using social media tools and features like Facebook Live, Twitter Spaces, and WhatsApp groups.

Using these social media tools and features, political party leaders and organizations shared their content in the form of text, video, audio, and images to engage voters. It meant getting organic content that resonates with electorates.

While there is a great desire to use social media to reach voters, there is still a need for political parties, organizations, 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 be very useful for political parties and movements as we move towards local elections.

The IEC should also provide guidelines on how leaders of political parties and organizations should behave on social media.

We have seen incidents in the past where political party leaders shared content on social media that did not resonate with party supporters.

In some incidents, politicians and political parties get caught up in the trend for the wrong reasons. Recently, the DA was in hot water for posting election posters about racism in Phoenix. Many felt the party was callous while others felt the posters fueled racial tensions.

In previous elections we have witnessed incidents where some political representatives had to be asked to take a break from social media because of the content they were sharing online which was seen to bring the party into disrepute. .

Although there is a scramble for information and manifestos on social media, it is crucial for electorates and political parties to recheck information that is shared on social media. We live in an age where disinformation and disinformation are high on the agenda.

Social media users should exercise caution when it comes to sharing and re-sharing content, especially panic-prone content and unverified information.

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

While there is a buzz for political parties and movements to use social media to reach voters, it is imperative that responsible free speech be encouraged and censorship banned. In parts of Africa, governments are increasingly blocking social media during elections or protests. This has a huge impact on freedom of expression and the rights of ordinary citizens.

Politicians and government officials should not dictate to voters what to post on social media platforms regarding service delivery issues. Users should be allowed to think about and interpret what they see as a service or a lack of service in their communities.

* Stembiso Sithole is a social media specialist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the IOL and the independent media.

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