Reduced role for social media in SA elections

2014-05-13 09:15
(Picture: Sapa)

(Picture: Sapa)

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Cape Town - Social media played a diminished role in the national elections, despite the presence of major political parties on online platforms, a social media strategist has said.

"Party leaders have higher numbers of followers than the parties themselves - but then South African politics is very personality driven," social media consultant for Afrosocialmedia Samantha Fleming told News24.

The African National Congress, Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters all invested effort into their Facebook and Twitter campaigns during the election cycle, but Fleming said that engagement levels on policy was low.

"There wasn't much deep debate on social media about party policies, or how voters could compare one party's policies over another."

Results show an overwhelming majority win for the ANC, and Fleming hailed the rise of smaller parties' voices in the public space.

"The growth in opposition and smaller parties indicates a growing and colourful electorate - and most importantly a vibrant democracy, where diversity and debate is tolerated."


She added that SA's political discussion on social media platforms is a good indicator to entrench discussion on socially relevant issues.

"This was the first South African election that played out on social media - and I think this 'new' space for discussion has definitely had a part to play in creating an environment for the above.

"The simple growth in numbers of followers and fans indicate that for this election, larger numbers of South Africans used social media to at the very least listen to (if not engage with) political parties," said Fleming.

On Twitter DA leader Helen Zille has 421 000 followers, compared to only 80 000 for the party. In the ANC, President Jacob Zuma has 320 000 followers, the while the party has 125 000.

EFF leader Julius Malema has 456 000 followers, but that dwarfs his party, which has only convinced 43 000 followers on the social network.

These results underscore Fleming's point that South African politics is largely focused on personality than policy, although social media statistics are not a reliable way to determine political loyalty.

Election results indicate that the ANC won 62% of the vote despite the negative publicity around Zuma's Nkandla homestead and accusations of rampant corruption in the government.

Service delivery

"Regarding negative publicity on social media around Nkandla, and the question of whether this dampened ANC votes, I think we should be cautious about over simplifying this argument. The ANC is not a party that plays out its internal politics in the media.

"Discussion happens behind closed doors, and negative publicity about the leader will not sway many loyal voters who believe the party has brought about freedom and democracy," Fleming cautioned.

She said that the rise of the EFF was largely attributable to unhappiness with basic service delivery.

"What is more relevant in swaying votes, I think, is disillusionment because of lack of service delivery, hence the dizzying growth of the EFF in a matter of months."

Check out the 2014 election results here.

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