Whether anyone like it or not, social media and politics have become inseparable. The reason for the somewhat bond between the two areas of human endeavours cannot be farfetched as political discourse happens through social media more often than not, particularly during electioneering campaign.
Without doubt, tweets and comments represent the modern-day public forum even as social media’s ability to break news in real-time has transformed the way we absorb information.
For instance, in Nigeria as a democratic country where campaigning for an election is an integral part of it, and at each political dispensation witnessing political parties use different social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn to reach out to voters, it is very obvious that it is quite different from the way politicians used to communicate a decade ago. Without any iota of exaggeration, social media has changed the political game, allowing incumbents and newcomers alike to speak directly to voters on everything from their own viewpoints as well as countering opponent parties’ policies. In fact, almost all Nigerian political leaders have taken up to social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter to express themselves without the filtering of traditional media.
Without doubt, current age new political aspirants get extended support from using social media platforms, which cost as less than 1% of the main media cost and are easily tapped by anyone with just a smartphone having an internet connection. Based on the elections happening around the world it is a known fact that social media can help level the playing field in politics, where money and access to formal communication channels pose huge barriers to newcomers in politics.
Since the evolvement of the social media, political campaigns by politicians are no longer confined to posters and banners to reach voters. Rather, social media campaigns are full of info-commercials, advertisements, blog posts, and threads of tweets, Instagram posts, and Facebook posts. Politicians are now able to convey their messages through endless info-commercials and gauge their communication by viewing direct responses to their actions on social platforms.
Paradoxically, like the proverbial climber that threw away his ladder at the height of success, politicians are usually averse to the social media which they maximize during electioneering campaigns to attain victory at the election. It suffices to say in this context that political parties and their politicians have always used the social media as tools of and for political communication.
Surprisingly, with the way Nigerian politicians speak against social media platforms today, one would think that they never for once used any of the platforms that cut across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn.
For instance, on November 5, 2019, Mohammed Sani Musa, the senator representing the Niger East Senatorial District of Niger State at the Nigerian 9th National Assembly sponsored a bill that sought to regulate the use of social media in the country, and the move expectedly led to public outrage. The bill, “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019” was one of the 11 bills read for the first time at the floor of the house on that day.
Musa said, in regards to individuals who post false information on the internet, that the “penalty for defaulters goes up to N300, 000 for individuals and up to N10 million for corporate organisations and imprisonment of up to three years or both.” Musa also lamented that troll or bot accounts have being used to rapidly spread falsehood across Nigeria in a manner that threatens national security. He said, “One of the disadvantages of the internet is the spread of falsehood and manipulation of unsuspecting users. Today, motivated by geopolitical interest and identity politics, state and non-state actors use the internet to discredit government, misinform people and turn one group against the other.” He added, “The hoax about the demise of President Muhammadu Buhari in London and his purported replacement by one Jubril of Sudan, among others, are things that threaten the peace, security and harmony of our people.”
In a similar vein, Desmond Elliot, a member of Lagos House of Assembly from Surulere I, during the EndSars Protest blamed the crisis that engulfed the nation’s commercial capital on the activities of social media influencers.
Hon. Elliot said the so-called influencers churned out misinformation at a dizzying rate, and promptly asked that such activities should be regulated. His suggestion came when lawmakers debated the violence that engulfed the state during the EndSars Protest.
Also in 2020, ostensibly as a result of the unprecedented level of devastation that trailed the EndSars Protest, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said that the nation was sitting on a keg of gun powder regarding the issue of fake news, hence the need for the government to immediately begin to regulate the social media space.
The minister made the call while responding to questions when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values to defend the 2021 budget proposal. He buttressed his view by saying that the biggest challenge facing the country is the issue of fake news and misinformation, warning that the next war that will be fought in the country and across the globe may be fought through social media.
Against the foregoing build-up of facts, many Nigerians were not in any way taken aback when the federal government on June 4, 2021 suspended Twitter “indefinitely” in Nigeria, “for the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence,” according to a statement (threaded on Twitter).
At this juncture, it suffices to say that the move came days after the platform removed a threatening tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari which Twitter said violated its “abusive behaviour” policy.
Ostensibly sounding it loud to Nigerians that the federal government meant business, the office of Nigeria’s attorney general and ministry of justice said it would arrest and prosecute anyone who tried to get around the block and directed government agencies to cooperate with prosecutors “to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.” Several news reports said people within Nigeria were using VPNs to try to avoid the ban and continue using Twitter.
Now the question is, “Why do politicians consider Social Media to be good for politicking and bad for any other business?