New Technologies and the 2011 Elections

With the recent development that INEC will display voters register on the Internet for validation and verification and as Mr. President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is set to …

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kennethWith the recent development that INEC will display voters register on the Internet for validation and verification and as Mr. President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is set to Launch a book on his social media Interaction on Facebook on 20th December, 2010 what quickly comes to my mind is the use of social media and new technologies for 2010 elections.

The use of new technologies in conducting and monitoring electoral processes globally has been seen as a welcomed development which Nigeria should fully explore in her forth coming elections.

It is now the duty of every Nigerian no matter your profession or where you live, to assist in whatever way he or she can to see that democracy is sustained come 2011. This is the singular reason why I have decided to write about it here.

In achieving the desired success come 2011 through the use of technologies, experts in Information and Communications Technologies like Prof. Charles Uwadia, President Nigeria Computer Society have strongly recommended to the government the use of Direct Data Capturing Machines for registration of voters, e-voting machines, new technologies during these elections among other tools that will help curb malpractices in elections.

Considering how peculiar  our political terrain is, a lot has to be done to see that 2011 elections is credible, our votes most count and be counted. In other to achieve this, a new power lies in the electorate to defend their votes and make them count. There is no doubt we are beginning to realize the power we have as recent events unfold.

One tool that is gradually being used in elections whether consciously or unconsciously is the Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, linkedIn and related technologies such as the mobile phones driven by the Internet. The good thing about social media is that anybody can use it whether government, political aspirants, political parties or individuals. This is quite evident as most political aspirants now use social media for their online campaigns.

Social media which are also regarded as the new media, citizen media or consumer generated media are designed in such a way that it becomes very easy to generate and share information, Connect with thousands of people and also mobilize them towards a particular cause through social networks. In most cases, these media are hardly controlled because the people own it.  For example, Facebook has an application called Facebook Causes; this connects people with common interest, Videos from Youtube has helped different group of people and organizations promote social and political causes successfully in their society. Social media makes for openness and democratization of information like never before resulting in citizen journalism where the efforts of traditional media are being complemented at the speed of thought.

Rob Stokes, the author of the book, eMarketing rightly defined Social media as that media (from written to visual to audio to audio-visual) that are designed to be shared, easy to comment on, easy to send and no high cost associated with viewing the media. The increasing rate of growth of these modern media platform makes it impossible for them to be ignored whether as a business, society or an individual. They are in fact gradually detecting the pace of information sharing and collaboration online and even in real world giving the traditional media a run for their money.

These social networks that are created in these social media, when harnessed properly can be agents of social and political transformation in recent times. For example, in chatting social causes, Twitter through its Twestival-an event which takes place every February 12 in over 100 cities around the world bringing twitter users together to raise funds for certain charity causes. Social medium platform was used to spread the news about Haiti earthquake and also to mobilize funds for them.

Politically, social media platforms have played very vital role in changing the political tide in some countries, for example, Facebook has been credited as being instrumental to the successful election of President Barack Obama.Facebook and twitter were used to mobilize people and also raise funds that led to his win. Hear what Arianna Huffington, the editor in Chief of Huffington Post (the leading blog on the internet)said, “ were it not for the internet Barack Obama would not be President, were it not for the internet,Barack Obama would not have been the nominee”

Stefano Hesse, Head Communications Facebook Africa, Europe and Asia, in a chat with me said “In Uk elections 2010, Facebook played vital role in the election process through the UK democracy page on Facebook which was an avenue for people to express their opinion about their candidates and rally support for who they think should be their leader, the same platform was also used for registration of voters during the period”.

Another instance where social media has played key role politically is the 2009 elections in Iran, when Ahmadinejad was declared the winner over Mousavi, that sparked up a lot of protest and the traditional media where banned from reporting the situation. It was the social media like the Facebook,twitter,Youtube,Flickr that were used in dissemination of information which attracted sympathy and interest that brought political stability in Iran. Social media has also being playing vital role in international politics between Google and China censorship issues.

Here in Nigeria, social media platform has been used to register dissatisfaction in some government policies. One that easily comes to my mind is the Enough is Enough protest earlier in the year, the mobilization of the young people that took part in that peaceful protest was done via the social media (Facebook,twitter and mobile devices)giving credence to the fact that social media can have effect in Nigeria.

In all of these accounts, one thing that is clear is that the social media played vital roles though not very active roles but their effect cannot be over looked.

Google in its support for the 2011 elections has trained some Nigerian application developers on the use and application of its technologies in efficient mapping, data collection, sharing and usage at the DevFest Lagos 2010 event which took place recently. Speaking on this, Bridgette Sexton, the Leader of the Google team emphasized the new for Nigerians to use the technologies from Google to monitor elections.

In practical terms, INEC should be educated on the need to use these tools before, during and after the elections to make sure that our democracy is sustained. For the people, our votes, camera phones and other devices are the greatest tools come 2011 as INEC has agreed to accept evidence of electoral fraud caught on camera by Nigerians. The information and data from these tools can provide detailed insight when analyzed. In conclusion, we should not forget the fact that social media and these new technologies are just tools; it is left for us Nigerians to make the desired change come 2011

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