Friday , 13 September 2013

Likes and votes: social media following is a terrible way to judge political contests

by George Gathigi

TwittervsVotes The just concluded General Election in Kenya was one of the most contested elections in the country’s history.

The ‘battle’ was fought on multiple fronts: from traditional door-to-door vote hunting to flying choppers branded in different coalition colours, to the manifestos, to traditional media, and not to forget, the social media. Of all these fronts, social media stands out as the one field where, regardless of the candidate’s actual popularity or depth of purse, one could compete.

On social media, the level of investments may not necessarily determine a candidate’s reach. For example, there are no costs variations in the investments one make in opening a twitter or facebook account. The value of a social media account can, in one way, be determined by the number of twitter followers or facebook likes one receives.

Like many contests, presidential candidates did not start on the same footing. The two front runners - Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta- were household names, owing to their lineage as sons of prominent fathers of Kenya’s politics and through their past political activities. All but one candidate, Mwalimu Abduba Dida, had been involved in the government as ministers, MPs or permanent secretaries. One can argue that were it not for the presidential debate, Mwalimu Dida would not have reached most voters.

Unlike Dida who was aided by the traditional media, that is television, a number of candidates had strong following on the social media. In particular, Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth generated a vibrant following.

But what does a strong social media showing mean for candidates? How much attention should a candidate pay on the social media as a pointer to likely performance on the ballot. Here, we want to examine social media activities and the extent to which the facebook likes and twitter Following may have translated into actual votes. Does social media following have any bearing on candidate’s popularity?



Nevertheless, it is evident that Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth’s strong showing on social media was not good enough to match the total votes garnered in the real elections. Liking and following doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the actual popularity. Among their followers on facebook include people in the diaspora and others who are not registered voters. Others have likes on multiple pages. Also, the encouraging words on twitter that we saw—which the candidates didn’t waste time in retweeting—are JUST WORDS.

A word of advice to the savvy politicians: Beyond the many likes and huge following, hit the ground and have a word with my grandmother! If she gets to ‘like’ you, she will ‘follow’ you to the ballot.