#Elections2019: How politicians are using social media to win votes

Not only do we see our politicians in formal suits but now they have made themselves more relatable and accessible on social media as well.

From #AskMusi hashtag trends to Twitter wars between politician Phumzile van Damme and local celebrity Pearl Thusi, politicians have invaded social media platforms in a bid to win support from young South Africans (SA).

They share memes, participate in social media challenges and share jokes with their followers. 

Former Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, who is currently heading the ANC’s national election campaign, is one the politicians who has created an online persona that is attractive to the ‘woke generation’. 

Mr Fear Fokkol as he is known to his 1.67 million followers, uses the platform not only to promote his party but also portray himself as a socialite and the master of clawbacks. 

With the election day on 8 May, political parties are making sure the voters choose them on the ballot paper. 

The prevalence of social media in politics has made elected officials and candidates for public office more accountable to voters.

However, the accessibility to politicians hasn’t always yielded the intended political results. The shadow of Helen Zille’s (1,38 million followers) unwelcomed tweets on the legacy of colonialism still hangs over her.

The use of social media in politics including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube has dramatically changed the way campaigns are run and how South Africans interact with their elected officials.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an estimated 88% of young people (15–34 years old) in SA live in a dwelling that has access to a landline, cellular telephone or the Internet.

In other countries such as America, Europe and some Asian, it has become fairly common for political campaigns to produce commercials and publish them for free on YouTube instead of, or in addition to, paying for time on television or the radio.

The potential impact of social media campaigning first became evident in the 2008 United States (US) presidential election. President Barack Obama’s campaign included the use of sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, along with other social media such as podcasting and mobile messaging.

Donald Trump also used Twitter heavily in his 2016 presidential campaign.

There is no reason to believe that SA  can escape the trend with countries where social media has a profound impact on election results.

PoliticiansandSocialMedia1 - #Elections2019: How politicians are using social media to win votes

The amount of South Africans following political figures on social media has more than doubled in recent years.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has 512 000 followers, but his timeline might suggest that his office is behind his social media presence. 

DA  leader Mmusi Maimane (1,11 million followers) has been doing a better job with more of his personality shining through his social media posts, even though he has received clap back from tweeps and dubbed as being blonde. 

EFF leader Julius Malema who has the most followers ( 2,4 million followers) has seemingly caught on to the power of social media in his electoral campaigning. 

Consistent with his comments, Malema shares his opinion on events and party affairs and does not shy away from making threats to social users or political members.

Experts say young people are more likely to engage in political issues on social media than other conventional platforms.  

Lauren Espach, head of social media at Vetro Media says, social media is a powerful tool used to reach out to young people globally and it has shown great impact politically when done right.

“Social media can have an influence on young voters, whether it is positive or negative- young voters can choose to vote or not. Many politicians have used these platforms as a voice amplifier for their political intentions.”

“Politicians could have a huge impact on these platforms. Leading to voting day, they can potentially influence the voters to vote for their political party or encourage young people vote irrespective of the party choice” says Espach.

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