Take Twitter seriously - Idasa
Cape Town - Politicians would do well to start taking social media more seriously and deal with the issues raised by users, rather than worry about their image, the Institute for Democracy in Africa has said.
"All political parties are starting to understand the value of social media and some politicians are more active than others," Idasa online communications manager Samantha Fleming told News24.
Recently, the ANC Youth League has blasted the micro-blogging service Twitter over fraudulent accounts in the name of firebrand youth leader Julius Malema. The ANCYL vowed to shut down the service and caused an angry reaction from Twitter users.
"In the (United) States there's lots more people who use social media, and in terms of African countries, we're getting on the bandwagon," said Fleming.
She said that most of the bigger parties had social media accounts, but that individual politicians were slowly migrating to use social media as a way of engaging with the public.
"The DA has the advantage so far but the landscape is changing. You don't need millions on Twitter, you need those with influence to spread your message further. Facebook is becoming more and more popular, but don't forget MXit."
Fleming said that the Barack Obama presidential campaign had generated enormous traction, and some South African politicians were starting to take the site (Facebook) more seriously, particularly as more people joined.
It also serves the majority of the population who do not have computers.
"Mobile is really huge - it's not like you need to have an iPhone. Even people with a basic phone can access social media. They aren't organising and mobilising on Facebook; it's just chatting to friends, but it's a small step to get there," she said.
The ANCYL in particular seems to have had a change of view on social networks. The organisation rejected a blog in a March campaign on media freedom begun by Sipho Hlongwane.
"I'm never worried about that, why should I be worried about these fake people?" Youth League spokesperson Floyd Shivambu told News24 at the time.
Shivambu had earlier said that the ANCYL was of the opinion that the internet doesn't "speak to our people" and would not follow up on stories about the organisation on the internet.
However, this week the ANCYL vowed that it would close Twitter and report the site for allowing fraudulent accounts in Malema's name.
Fleming said that politicians could use Twitter to establish relationships with the public.
"Politicians are using them (social networks) to establish relationships with people and the right way, I guess, is to make people feel like they're in a relationship. Don't worry about your image, speak to the issue."
She had some advice for Malema and the ANCYL: "Roll with the punches."
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