An election too soon for social media in SA

While political parties are mostly keenly aware of the power of social media, for now they do not regard it as a key channel for attracting new voters.

This is the view of internet and technology analyst, Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx.

According to Goldstuck, the political parties are not using social channels to convince voters to change their minds.

“The Facebook and Twitter presence of most parties and their leaders is geared to reinforcing their message to their supporters, rather than converting other parties’ supporters,” the industry analyst said.

He said it would have a tremendous influence in countries where political parties are not deeply entrenched among voters, or where a high proportion of voters is “married” to the party as an almost religious affiliation.

“The result is that, in countries with fluid voting dynamics, social networks can sway the election result. In South Africa, there is very little likelihood of this happening,” Goldstuck said.

According to the BBC, India’s political parties have been using social media as a battleground to attract voters for the country’s nationwide parliamentary elections, which began in April, and are scheduled to conclude a week (12 May) after the elections in South Africa (7 May).

The British news site said that, during the general election in 2009, social media usage in India was negligible.

However, Facebook has 93 million users in India, while Twitter has an estimated 33 million accounts in that country.

“The critical mass of voters in social media is the main reason these channels are taken so seriously in India,” Goldstuck said.

“In South Africa, we can expect that kind of intensified focus on social media in the 2019 elections, when we can expect more than 20-million South Africans to be online. With more than half of the voting population using the Internet and social media by then, it will probably as important a campaign channel as radio and TV,” Goldstuck said of South Africa.

“The social media efforts being made during the 2014 elections are in reality a dress rehearsal for 2019, when it will make a real difference,” he said.

As a matter of reference, the ANC, South Africa’s ruling party’s Twitter page  (@MyANC_ )
commands in excess of 120,000 followers, having tweeted more than 11,100 times, whilst following 6,570 accounts.

Rival party, the Democratic Alliance (@DA_News) has 77,300 followers, having tweeted 26,900 times, but is also following 26,100 accounts.

Commander in chief of Economic Freedom Fighters [EFF], Julius Malema (@Julius_S_Malema) has 447,000 followers, with 6,600 tweets, following 169 accounts.

On Facebook, the EFF has 83,900 likes, the DA has 97,500 likes, and the ANC has 28,600 likes, whilst another account, MyAnc, has 141,000 likes.

Active Facebook users in SA range between 9.6 million and 11 million at the end of 2013, while Twitter users in the country is estimated at 5.5 million.

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An election too soon for social media in SA