Updated: Feb 28
A new case study in Ghana has reveal the more subtle ways in which social media is changing election campaigns. Initially it was thought that social media platforms would provide an efficient and relatively inexpensive way for opposition parties to organise, establish a presence, get their ideas out, and grow their support base.
As more and more political discussions take place online, there is a real danger that digital inequalities in internet access can become political inequalities in representation and voice. The research has indicated that social media is increasing campaign costs, entrenching inequalities, and maintaining the gap between parties. The reasoning is simple: well established political parties and well-off politicians are better able to invest in, and hence profit from, the digital space.
Ghana’s ruling New Patriotic Party has hired over 700 people to work on social media who are paid salaries and given phone credit. They are recruited in addition to the media teams in each constituency office across the country in addition to social media communicators hired by individual politicians. All of these investments are on top of traditional campaign activities of organising rallies, printing campaign materials, canvassing, attending weddings and funerals, distributing gifts to supporters, and interacting face-to-face with voters.
Ghana’s smaller parties are thus in an untenable position as they are keenly aware of the promise of social media yet unable to benefit. The politicians and their supporters often use social media to advertise activities around development which strengthens the popular association of “good leadership” with direct assistance — a model of political patronage that favours the rich and fuels corruption.
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