We at Transform Ghana want the general public to see vividly how social media has been entwined in our democracy, and deal with all issues as they arise with immediate attention concerning the upcoming elections.
People are turning to social networks, mainly Facebook and Twitter, but this time not to chat with the friends or post a vacation picture. They want to know about the latest developments of the General Elections. The role of social media in politics is increasing day by day. It can really have an impact on the decision making of the people. So, is this increasing role of social media in politics good? Or does it have a downside?
Social media is not an entirely new concept, but in this election season it has played a bigger role in our young democracy than ever in the history of Ghana. The Transform Ghana Peace Project conducted research and have been following closely how our politics is being influenced by Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other social media.
The number of people on social media has recently hit record highs, with 1.13 billion daily active users on Facebook and 313 million monthly active users of Twitter as of June 2016. With these numbers growing every day, it only makes sense that the number of people who get their news from these sources is growing too.
The convenor of Transform Ghana Peace Project, Steven Blessing Ackah, has been following the issues and has some thoughts to share. Below is excerpts from a short interview to highlight the many issues arising from social media in the election.
Steve: Good morning Steve
Mawuena: This is the big question, of course – has social media made our political discourse better or worse?
Steve: To answer that question, we have to start with the one candidate who dominated social media this year, and that is President John Dramani Mahama. And I bring him up not to discuss him exactly but to discuss his effect on all the other candidates for president.
Mawuena: Do you think the NMC is trying to salvage the situation as best as they could?
Steven: The National Media Commission is collaborating with other institutions such as the Ministry of Interior and the Ghana police service to come up with strategic approaches to to minimise circulation of information on social media rather than ban it on the day of elections.
Mawuena: Is there a possibility that social media can announce the elections before the Electoral commission?
Steven: Social media cannot announce the election, the Electoral Commission by constitutional mandate is supposed to announce the outcome of the Elections. Not even the Supreme Court can announce the elections without a consultation.The social media bloggers association can go far by projecting who won the election after the declaration from the Electoral Commission.
Mawuena: Do you think the police and National Commission on Civic Education has done enough to deter people from abusing social media?
Steven: There is still more work for the NCCE and the police. They need to work hand in hand to deter users and followers of social media by constant education. Secondly I also think the best and concrete way we can develop is to look at the digital aspect of it. They can develop a software or application that could monitor this mayhem.
Mawuena: Has social media contributed to fear and panic in your view in Ghana?
Steven: Until the 2016 coming elections, we have not experienced a full contribution of social media when it comes to elections in Ghana. This is because in the 2012 elections Ghanaians were green in the aspect of social media. However, other matters where social media play full engagement has proven beyond doubt, that if care is not taken, it can create fear and panic. A good example is how people are playing around the balloting papers that was released by the Electoral Commission not long ago.
Mawuena: With all these fake posts on Whatsapp groups, Facebook and Twitter we receive everyday, in your own estimation do you think it can be minimised or controlled before it causes any harm?
Steven: It can be minimised if the laws are working. Remember no one is above the law. Force will be applied on anything that does not comply with the law.
Mawuena: Giving a scenario, If there is a circulation on Dec 8th on social media about a particular candidate winning. What do you think will be the outcome and how ready are we as a country to correct that?
Steven: Nobody in Ghana can create a social media related violence, I state this categorically. Unless the laws are not in place and I trust the laws to work any day.
Mawuena: What is your best social media platform and why?
Steven: Wow thats a question of a kind. I believe its twitter, why: because its meant for like-minded people and a platform where Africans have not explored.
Mawuena: What possibly could go wrong in respect to social media in Ghana?
Steven: Users who take the law into their own hands may be at the court. I don’t see anything going wrong generally.
Mawuena: As a peace and security expert, with all the facts that are out there what will be your advice to the youth of Ghana?
Steven: Stay true to authentic, credible and reliable information. In all I would say that everything that creates dialogue can help improve the system.
Note: sections of this interview have been edited for spelling & grammar for clarity.