The next speaker in this ECREA 2016 session is Martin Nkosi Ndlela, who is also a contributor to our Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics. He shifts our focus to the use of social media in Kenyan elections. What are the democratic implications of rapid change in media systems in developing nations such as this, and what effect do new media have on civic engagement?
How were social media used in the political campaigning process in the 2013 election campaign in Kenya, then? This must also be understood against the context of previous elections in the country, which saw outbreaks of considerable violence resulting in several deaths.
Kenya and other African countries have witnessed a rapid increase in mobile subscriptions, leading in turn to a growing role for mobile Internet access and ultimately to a growing use of social media communication across society. This changes the dynamics of political communication, and how this unfolds is affected by questions of accessibility as well as affordability – which may be distributed quite unevenly across the country.
Social media are now being used by a range of societal actors, including politicians and their parties, civil society organisations, and ordinary citizens. Mass rallies and direct addresses by politicians to large crowds are still very central to Kenyan campaigning of course – but social media now serve as an additional element in the communication process, augmenting more conventional modes of address.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp are all being used for this, and especially to present politicians as authentic individuals; they are also important for showing allegiance between candidates and parties forming electoral coalitions, however. But such social media use remains secondary to conventional activities.
Key uses, then, include voter mobilisation, profiling candidates, presenting attractive visual imagery, engaging with like-minded voters, maintaining a digital presence, sharing information on upcoming campaign activities, fundraising (including also via mobile payment systems, importantly), and supplementary communication.
Previous campaigns had been marred by considerable violence – after 2007, there had been some 1,000 deaths, and 500,000 people were displaced. Social media also played an important role in monitoring and witnessing these events – citizen-contributed images documenting the unrest were widely shared, and it is no surprise that the crowdsourced crisis monitoring platform Ushahidi originates from Kenya. Facebook communities were similarly used to document such developments, as well as for tracking bribery, corruption, hate speech, and other issues. Social media remain important for such purposes, too.