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PROJECT TOPIC- ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN VOTER’S BEHAVIOR USING EBONYI STATE AS A CASE STUDY

PROJECT TOPIC- ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN VOTER’S BEHAVIOR USING EBONYI STATE AS A CASE STUDY

 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

  • Background to the Study

The emergence of the Internet as the new mass medium of the 21st century has now changed the mass media substantially. Information can be distributed at high speed, low cost, and broad scope and as a result, there is egalitarian access to the production and the consumption of news (Prat and Strömberg, 2011). The 2015 election that resulted to Muhammadu Buhari as president of Nigeria was hailed internationally as a historic transfer of power in Africa’s most populous nation, with social media playing greater role or influenced the fairness of the election. Social media with all their flaws had the power of immediacy. They are also very participatory. In an election where you have citizens who are participating, they were also providing the news and information surrounding the elections. It was an empowerment of people through their votes, and also through their ability to disseminate information. That is not to say that traditional media didn’t play a role. But the social media role was central.

The world is becoming increasingly connected via the power of the Internet; Facebook launched internet.org an initiative to gain even the most remote parts of society access to the World Wide Web. Political movements have begun to see social media as a major organizing and recruiting tool and the reverse can be said for society. Social media (done right) gives you all this because it’s inherently a two-way communication system. Rather than getting brand messages, you get recommendations from friends in the form of re-shares and recommended posts, which de-commercializes the brand message.

In the year 2003 and 2007 respectively the general election in Ebonyi State were like dramatic rehearsal and presentation, or like lion and elephant put together in battle arena which gathered momentum and pose grave consequences. In 2012, two Commissioners and an Advisor to Ebonyi State’s governor barely escaped an assassination attempt when they were attacked at a petrol station by gunmen; a bystander was not so lucky and was killed in the gunfire (AOAV & NWGAV, 2013). Sobechi (in Adele, 2012) aptly reported that in Izzi Local Government of Ebonyi State suspected thugs loyal to a political party unleashed terror on St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, Iziogo in the local council.

The social media has become almost an inseparable part of human life in places where they exist. In recent times, social media have evolved new forms of democracy, government, and have become a clear and more effective voice of many. In fact, social media have influences on all spheres of human life. The impacts of the social media are felt most in the 2015 general elections. It was felt in the electioneering processes-campaign, and eventually the polling procedures. According to Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (2012), the 2011 elections in Nigeria witnessed a remarkable use of the social media as a tool for political communication. It was used for campaigns via personal websites, blogs, all social media applications, and several other media. Aside from this, the social media was equally used as a weapon to undermine and even destroy the image of other political parties, especially the People’s Democratic Party and All Progressive Party.

In the 2015 general election, the social media became more potent tool and even a more lethal weapon. There are releases in the form of videos, voice notes, headlines, and broadcasts that made and mar many political parties and individuals. For example, a publication on Senator Buruji Kashamu almost marred his political ambition and eventually his swearing in. A hate video was broadcasted on both General Muhammadu Buhari and Senator Bola Tinubu. Ordinarily, these videos might have ended the political ambitions of these individuals in some other places.

The social media have become the most accessible source of information, particularly in the last two general elections. Before the day of the election, the social media disseminated many messages to the public that went viral. The social media communicated to the public a lot of information that could have caused unrest in some volatile nations. For example, the social media gave other reasons for the postponement of the election from February 14, 2015 to March 28, 2015 aside from the unpreparedness of Independent National Electoral Commission. Reasons that made the public believed that the postponement was to the advantage of the ruling party as it would provide the opportunity for the ruling party to manipulate the election in such a way that the power of the electorates would amount to nothing. This sort of report can cause anarchy in some volatile countries that are not stable. Nigeria not being totally exceptional in this case (Igbaji, 2012).

PROJECT TOPIC- ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN VOTER’S BEHAVIOR USING EBONYI STATE AS A CASE STUDY

The social media pass information freely, because they are unregulated. The information can come in the form of broadcast on social media application, like WhatsApp and BBM, blogs; or even text messages. With the unregulated nature of the social media, it is certain that many of the information are not subject to scrutiny and may be conjured, misrepresentation, or even misinformation. These traces of misinformation were felt in the opinion polls, releases of early results, until the panic was subdued by the tension-easing tactic adopted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). With the tactics, the tension created by the social media was adequately handled and it diminished gradually. This paper is discussing the roles played by the social media in making or marring the entity Nigeria in the 2015 general elections, with specific interest in the presidential election (Adeyaju and Harana, 2011).

Social media is that space, the many tools helping to amplify the voices of average Nigerians, taking ordinary voice sand making them extraordinary by bringing them to homes, offices, and places most of them would have probably never reached under different circumstances. It started out as a playground for mostly young jobless people. Today, it has become the battle ground of what would arguably be the most competiOBtive election in Nigeria’s history. The advent of internet and technology has exposed majority of the global population to different interactive platforms on which different kind of information is exchanged which might significantly have effect on human behavior, decision and judgment (CES, 2012). Social media are new information network and information technology using a form of communication utilizing interactive and user-produced content, and interpersonal relationships are created and maintained.

According to (Eugene, 2015) the popularity of getting political news from social media platforms is greatly increasing. Nwele (2005:14) pointed out a 2014 study which showed that 62% of web users turn to Facebook to find political news. This social phenomenon allows for political information, true or not, spreading quickly and easily among peer networks. Furthermore, social media sites are now encouraging political involvement by uniting like-minded people, reminding users to vote in elections, and analyzing users’ political affiliation data to find cultural similarities and differences. As social media gains more popularity and scope, its impact on voters‘ political and cultural perceptions cannot be underestimated as social media practically influences the way users interact, communicate and make decisions on social, cultural, and  political issues in today‘s world.

The social media has become a powerful medium which may affect voting behavior because of its potential to provide direct and cheap access to the production and consumption of current information at any part of the world without editorial filtering (Sunstein, 2001). Not only do social media provide information about political affiliations, candidates and their party manifestoes, it also provides a platform through which voters across cultural divides can relate and interact with themselves on issues about these candidates. Social media can help taint the reputation of political figures fairly quickly with information that may or may not be true. Information spreads like wildfire and before a politician can even get an opportunity to address the information, either to confirm, deny, or explain, the public has already formed an opinion about the politician based on that information. However, when conducted on purpose, the spread of information on social media for political means can help campaigns immensely.

Open forums online have also been the root of negative and positive effects in the political sphere. Some politicians have made the mistake of using open forums to try and reach a broader audience and thus more potential voters. What they forgot to account for was that the forums would be open to everyone, including those in opposition. Having no control the comments being posted, negative included, has been damaging for some with unfortunate oversight. Additionally, a constraint of social media as a tool for public political discourse is that if oppressive governments recognize the ability social media has to cause change (Adeyaju and Harana, 2011).

Today’s social media has made the world a global village, with the quick transfer of information overriding the challenges of time and distance (Friedman, 2007). Social media has gradually become one of the important means of influencing the society and this influence is based exclusively on its social aspects of interaction and participation. Nearly every political party in the country used social media to campaign and advance its plans, message and manifestos to supporters including advertising, mobilization and organizing in all the states of the federation, and even fundraising. Facebook, YouTube and especially Twitter were used to let voters know how each party or particular candidate felt about important national issues ranging from security to power. Hence social media became powerful enough to influence voter decisions and choices as many voters who had fixed their minds and conscience on voting a particular party or candidate began to change their minds based on certain information or idea they got online about the party or candidate. Information gotten by a particular voter was also not static, as the same voter would use several internet tools and buttons to broadcast same message to other voters like him through medium such as blogs, Facebook, Nairaland, chat rooms etc. in order to influence them.

The case of Ebonyi State is not left out in the outcome of social media in voter’s behavior as many Ebonyians tried to make different posts on Facebook and other social media on why they need development and other things and not just on Agriculture. These statements attracted comments as well as other statements stating why the state needed broom to clean up things that has gone wrong in the state. While most of these might be wrong in the manner they are presented, people tend to concur especially when it is coming from a respected person within the clique.

From the above, the study will try to ascertain the role of social media in voter’s behavior, using Ebonyi State as a study.

1.2.         Statement of the Problem

The use of emotional appeals in political campaigns, to increase support for a candidate or decrease support for a challenger through social media is a widely recognized practice and a common element of any campaign strategy. Campaigns often seek to instill positive emotions such as zeal and hopefulness about their candidate to improve turnout and political activism, while seeking to raise fear and anxiety about the opposition and these can easily be achieved through social media which tends to reinforce preference for the candidate and party as people try to express their feeling, fear and expectations, while fear and anxiety interrupt voter behavioral patterns in Ebonyi State which tends to lead to individual voters looking for new sources of information on divergent political issues.

Sources of information available to a voter vary widely including the traditional media, TV, radio and newspapers. However, with the advent of online social media forum, most voters in Ebonyi State can access information, debate on the information and also give feedback on his own views, opinions and expectations from the party and candidate. Although the social media has helped in increasing the awareness about 2015 general election. Rumors, falsehood, propaganda and derogatory information about individual candidates or parties are commonplace online and spread faster than anticipated, often with disastrous outcomes. This is largely attributed to the lack of editorial filtering, and the anonymity of most online users. The internet encourages anonymity of its users, which means that those who write and comment often use nicknames or aliases. This has a huge influence on voter behavior, as most voters in Ebonyi State who read stories online have a tendency to believe such stories without crosschecking facts and take decisions based on this propaganda. This is a widely known fact among political parties and they use it to their advantage in bringing down their opponents.

Previous research has found that it is possible to influence a person’ attitudes toward a political candidate using carefully crafted information about such candidate online, which in turn may influence the voter‘s behavior towards the candidate. Social media can also be used by various parties to propagate false news and propaganda about the opposition in order to disfavor such party or candidate in the eyes of the electorates while exonerating theirs. This has a huge influence on voter behavior as many voters make decisions based on such news they read online.

Furthermore, social media has made voters privy to any kind of information about general election in the state as there are no longer any isolated places or hiding holes. The private and public lives of society‘s most influential figures including politicians have been made public online. This is because in today’s world, once a politician declares for a post, his entire life including his educational background, his family, his job and any past mistakes or excesses are made public on social media platforms for people to comment, discuss and publicly judge.

Many politicians have been found in compromising positions with their words or phrase taken out of context and magnified to huge proportions by opposition parties in order to discredit them. Many a times,   people go to the extent of recording private conversations or actions of these candidates and make the recorded audio or video public on various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter quickly, with a view to elicit response and vicious backlash from voters and other online users. The belief is that it will go a long way in influencing voter‘s behavior and turning such voter against the candidate since the voter can now judgmentally make decisions about the candidate based on what he said, did or other information about him or her. Even though, such information are refuted sometimes by the concerned party or individual, it remains valid in the minds of many voters who may have made up their mind already or simply are not aware of the true situation.

From the foregoing, this study tried to ascertain the role of social media in voter’s behavior, using Ebonyi State as a study.

  • Objectives of the Study

This study tried to ascertain the role of social media in voter’s behavior, using Ebonyi State as a study. Specifically it tried to:

  1. To find out the role played by social media in creating awareness in Ebonyi State elections.
  2. To determine the level of influence social media has on the success of Ebonyi State
  3. To find out factors that influence/drive awareness creation of the social media in Ebonyi State
  4. To identify the lesson from the role social media play in Ebonyi State election

    PROJECT TOPIC- ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN VOTER’S BEHAVIOR USING EBONYI STATE AS A CASE STUDY

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