ABSTRACT: The core of the study was to investigate the influence of social media as agenda setting tools in election . The emergence of social media, also known as citizen media in this digital era, has changed Nigeria’s socioeconomic development, particularly its political development, since it provides a venue for political debates, political campaigning, and political mobilization, particularly in election years. Data were gathered from residents of Obubra L.G. using a questionnaire as part of a cross-sectional survey study method. Frequency and percentage method was adopted to analyze the data collected. The study finds out that due to social media mobilization, many of the respondents took part in the election. Before, during, and after the election, they looked up political debates and discussions on social media, and many of them were voters. It was suggested that social media be enhanced to boost public mobilization, sensitization, and true democracy in Nigeria through citizen sensitization programmes rather than hate speech, name-calling, and sharing of unverified information or results during elections.
1.1 Background to the Study
The hallmark of democracy is election while the beauty of election is the level of electorates awareness, mobilization, education and participation since election is based on the popular will (Olayinka, 2015). No wonder, political parties, party candidates and their sponsors spend lots of money, time and energy in canvassing and gaining majority of voters through campaigns and rallies. These activities never end at the scene of the event but are highly sponsored in the media to create certain effect on the viewers, listeners and readers of news media using different headlines size, pictures, camera angles, position of stories and choice of words among other techniques.
However, the art of politicking has always relied upon the promotion of one party, candidate or point of view over another. The only thing that has changed is the method and techniques available to political communicators are media availability. In the early days of political advertising and campaign, communicators relied upon the dissemination of messages by word of mouth, traditional mass media such as radio, television, newspaper, magazine, billboard and posters etc.
In terms of the sheer volume of information available to citizens via the media on issues – political parties and leaders – electioneering campaigns often represents a high point for political communications. Concerns about political bias in the mass media are at the heart of debates about the roles and responsibilities of the media at election time. Behind these concerns is the assumption that there may be effects, intended or unintended, on public opinion and political behaviour and, ultimately, electoral outcomes (BBC, 2008).
The traditional media which includes: TV, radio and print have not lived up to expectations in terms of making genuine information available to the electorate before, during, and even after elections. One of the reasons for this is that most these traditional media are owned and controlled by the political elites in Nigeria, thus, the need for a shift to a more interactive media that allows for user-to-user generated contents which has eliminated the gatekeeping and agenda setting monopoly of the traditional media.
Meanwhile, as technology wax stronger the channels available to political advertisers and politician grew exponentially. The twentieth century marked the first time in political history that political communicators had the means to reach audience on a mass scale through social networking platform such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram that do not only make communication effective, two ways but very interactive manner etc.
New media are sweeping away the limitations of the analogue world and weakening the grip of government and private -owned media platforms of information mono-poly and control. This research is anchored on agenda setting theory postulated by McWell McComb and Donald Shaw (1972/73) cited in (Anaeto, Onabajo and Osifeso, 2008).
The Agenda setting theory of the media according Anaeto, Onabajo and Osifeso (2008). is the process whereby the news media lead the public in assigning relative importance to various public issues. This is because the action of the media is towards influencing people’s perception of what is important, acceptable, or desirable. Attention is drawn to certain aspects of reality and away from others, thus influencing people in terms of what to think.
This agenda-setting function of news casting can be achieved deliberately or accidentally by the size of headlines, order of appearance, choice of words, and length of coverage and this is possible because of the active audience which are conceived as selective in their programming choices and interpretation, motivated by different demands, and resistant to direct media influence; in contrast to the concept of mass audiences whom many perceived as passive and easily swayed. The concept represents a new way of thinking about audiences and their relationship to media of communication.
Akinfeleye (2015) posits that mass media are not only the one setting agenda on political matters again in this era of citizen journalism or civic journalism, adding that citizens are now part of the agenda setters who set it through their social media timeline, group, blog and many other online platforms.
It is against this background that the research examined social media as agenda setters platform in the 2015 general elections in Nigeria with the view on how Nigerians actually use social media platforms to contribute to discussion, debate, argument, education, enlightenment and overall participation of electorates.
1.2 Problem Statement
With the rise of the information communication technology (social media), the public domain is growing; information that used to be in the expert domain is becoming publicly available and new mechanisms for public involvement are being explored.
Mass media are not only the one setting agenda on political matters again in this era of citizen journalism as citizens are now part of the agenda setters who set it through their social media timeline, group, blog and many other online platforms.
Also, the gross misused of the social media in the just conclude 2015 presidential election in Nigeria call for urgent attention on how to use social media during elections as unverified election results were tweeting, posting and sharing on twitter and Facebook respectively.
Nevertheless, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube etc offer unique platform for political education, debate, opinion exchange, dialogue, modification of opinions among others. To this end, research examines social media as agenda setter’s platform in the 2015 general elections in Nigeria and also appraise its influence on the credibility and the overall conduct of the 2015 poll with a projection into how new media (social media) platforms can be better utilize in setting agenda for future elections in Nigeria and other Africa countries.
1.3 Objectives of the study
- To examine the degree of social media usage among electorate in Obubra during the 2015 General Election.
- To examine whether electorate in Obubra use social media in setting agenda/discussion during 2015 General Election.
1.4 Research Questions
- What is the degree of social media usage among electorate in Obubra during the 2015 General Election?
- Did electorate in Obubra use social media in setting agenda/discussion during 2015 General Election?
1.5 Significance of the Study
Since social media have emerged as tool for political communication, only few of them ever written on social media in political participation in Africa and Nigeria in particular.
Therefore, being a new aspect, the work will benefit individuals, corporate bodies, government, researchers, students, media professionals, political parties, political aspirants, politicians, INEC, Security operative among others.
Voters: Individuals/electorate will benefit from this study as they will know the extent at which they can post or share information online particularly how to verify information before it is “like, comment, repost, share, re-tweet, follow” among etc.
National Assembly: The National Assembly should as a matter of urgency pass a bill as is been sponsored by the INEC to prevent people from announcing part or all election results without prior announcement from INEC due to abuse of the media by so many citizens in the last general election.
Researcher: Future researchers who many what to carry out research in this area or related aspect will find this materials very useful and serve as reference material.
Corporate institution: Corporate bodies such as Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, CDHR and other advocacy bodies will through the research know how best to utilize social media and other information technology to mobilize people on political matters such as winning mobilizing people for the use of Card Reader during Poll e.t.c
1.6 Scope of the Study
The study focuses on the social media as agenda setters in the 2015 general election in Nigeria. The work has been narrowed in scope to the electorate in Obubra local government area of Cross Rivers State particularly those participated in 2015 general election and use social media in the course of sharing, debating and discussing 2015 General Election due to the time, geographical locations, fund and other logistics.
This cannot be effectively discussed without considering the demographic factor of Obubra L.G residents this include age, sex, education, marital status etc.
1.7 Operational Definition of the Terms
Social media: It is a group of internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of web 2.0 which allow the interaction, creation and posting of political messages and other information such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram sites used to mobilize and sensitize among citizens in 2015 presidential election in Nigeria.
Agenda setting theory: Is the process whereby the mass media determine what we think and worry about.
Choice of candidate: This dwells on factors influencing voters’ reasons for selecting candidate
2015 General election: The voting exercise to opt president, governor and members of National and State Assembly in Nigeria.