How will social media impact the upcoming general election on November 4th?

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Social Media’s Impact on the November 4th General Election

Tuesday, October 20th 2015. BMG: Social-media has, and continues to grow in popularity and usage. Social-networking-sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter have becoming the standard platforms for digital-marketing and for disseminating information. More recently, several institutes have started exploring how digital social-media figures into real-world political participation.

While there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to suggest that discussions and marketing on social-media can tip an election in any specific direction, there is enough evidence from several studies to suggest that, at the very least, social-media does have the ability to shape public thought, perception and participation.

An interesting question then, is how does social-media, Facebook in specific, factor into the upcoming November 4th elections? Taking into consideration that over 40 percent of Belize’s population is now on Facebook, according to an ICT-Pulse survey earlier this year, and given that all three political parties contesting the election have an obvious presence and following on the SNS, however small, the site is sure to impact the election in some way.

Social-media has been proven to have had a direct impact on the United States (US) Presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, where Barack Obama’s team utilized the platform to stimulate conversation, solicit campaign financing, disseminate information and mobilize people, according to Pew Research Center.

Pew also found that social-mediums were also influential in the 2010 Swedish elections for many of the same reasons. More recently, and perhaps more notably due to the proximity with Belize, Guatemala’s deposition of its President and Vice President on corruption charges was fueled by mobilization on Facebook. Protests and demonstrations were organized and planned on social media and the online support translated into hundreds-of-thousands of people turning out to rally against the government.

In Belize the United Democratic Party (UDP), the People’s United Party (PUP) and now the Belize Progressive Party (BPP) each have an official Facebook page and respective followings that support their parties online and offline. Often, Belizean politics is the subject of heated debate among users but even in the studies on record, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Facebook discussions and debates can convince people to alter their views.

The one certainty, however, is that social-media offers a platform like no other for political entities. It is a form of 24-hour-a-day electioneering and publicity. It allows politicians to connect with supporters and critics like never before. It also allows political entities to monitor public sentiment and, like any other organization, develop public-relation strategies to appeal to those supporters.

Still, there is very little data to suggest that online interactions translate into offline support but social media has obviously played a role in helping the parties in Belize disseminate information and mobilize supporters to some extent.

The official Facebook page of the UDP has just under 6,000 likes; coincidentally, this was also the estimated number of people who participated in the UDP’s nomination day rally in Belize City. The official PUP Facebook has ittle more than 1,000 likes and this was, also coincidentally, the estimated number of people who participated in the PUP’s nomination day rally in the City. The BPP, though only having been established several weeks ago, has already gained over 600 likes on their official Facebook page. Still, Facebook support doesn’t give a solid indication how votes may be placed on election day; neither do nomination day rallies.

The largest and perhaps best-known inquiry into this issue so far is a 2012 study published in the journal Nature, “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization,” which suggested that messages on users’ Facebook feeds could significantly influence voting patterns. The study data — analyzed in collaboration with Facebook data scientists — suggested that certain messages promoted by friends “increased turnout directly by about 60,000 voters and indirectly through social contagion by another 280,000 voters, for a total of 340,000 additional votes.” Close friends with real-world ties were found to be much more influential than casual online acquaintances.

That study, of course, was done on an American demographic, however, a similar study on the impact of Twitter use during the 2010 Swedish election yielded similar results, suggesting that social-media, no matter the country, does have some impact on the voting population.

Soon enough though, Belizeans will take to the polls, having been influenced by social media to some degree, or not, and will cast their votes and all the debate will be over.


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