Nigerian Youths, Social Media And The General Elections


According to 2017 NLNG Prize for Literature finalist, Seun Lari-Williams, social media have played the role of assisting the news industry disseminate information faster and increasing the public’s accessibility to facts surrounding newsworthy events.

Lari-Williams, however, explains to our correspondent that even more so than the medium itself, the existence of “social media influencers”, which he describes as a concept that did not exist until only a few years ago, has been instrumental in the run-up to the elections.

The 31-year-old lawyer says, “The opinions of these influencers on election matters are constantly shaping the minds of thousands of youths across the country. I would say that never before have Nigerian youths been this armed with so much information about the electoral candidates and other matters.”

Clearly, the ubiquity of information that comes with social media has largely made it a tool for political propaganda. This has made cyberspace a level playing battlefield for ambitious politicians who have their sights set on elective seats of office.

A 2018 music graduate of the University of Lagos, Michael Adeyemi, speaking to our correspondent, notes that different political candidates and political parties harness the power of social media to communicate with potential voters and would-be supporters.

Adeyemi highlights that several presidential aspirants with teeming following of youths have been able to engage such young citizens on social media.

“Politicians and prospective office holders have used forums like Twitter as a tool to feel the pulse of their supporters through different question-and-answer sessions, for example,” he tells our correspondent.

A National Youth Service Corps member, Akinyemi Lawani, agrees, describing new media as an integral part of “our daily activities in the 21st century.”

According to Lawani, candidates running for various positions have been able to reach a wide range of people across the country and receive feedback from them.

He says, “Social media also play a vital role in sensitising the people to their voting rights and encouraging them to shun bribery and violence.”

With increased access to and consumption of information across interactive new media, it is not hard to see why youths depend on social media for up-to-the-minute coverage of political events.

Lari-Williams, who is also a published poet, says with new media, he instantly knows what the public considers the most important political news item at any point in time.

Though the author uses trending topics on Twitter, as well as Facebook, to help him curate what the most important events are, he worries about the danger of fake news to the country’s democracy, describing disinformation as a “massive threat.”

He adds, “What is even sadder is how quickly false news travels. Look at what was going about concerning the right way to fingerprint. Even now, there’s still confusion about it, just because of a maliciously false WhatsApp broadcast.

“Mark Twain said, ‘A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.’ Even more unfortunate is the fact that fake news can harm more than just our democracy; it can harm us. Fake news can take the shape of false information about medicine, religion, anything. It can certainly lead to war.”

A lawyer and public analyst, Babajide Idowu, shares his sentiment, telling our correspondent that fake news is a threat to the country’s democracy and could lead to chaos.

According to Idowu, in order to prevent chaos, the government will need to check fake news. But he notes that the right to free expression should be upheld.

“In a bid to check fake news, government may intentionally or otherwise be unable to draw the line between checking fake news and stifling freedom of speech. An undemocratic government may therefore surreptitiously use regulation of fake news as a way of clamping down on freedom of speech,”he says.

In the same vein, Adeyemi cites the controversy surrounding an allegation of President Muhammadu Buhari being cloned, adding that fake news could threaten the sovereignty of the country.

“It is often spread with the aim of damaging a person or an entity for personal, political or financial gain. Fake news brings needless panic and unnecessary tension to society,” he says.

Speaking on the effects of social media on the elections, Lawani notes that it helped him choose his preferred candidate for the presidential position.

While underscoring the influence of social media, the mass communication graduate calls for caution in promoting political agendas.

“Social media has allowed us share our opinions and ideas with the rest of the world. However, we should understand that our opinions are just opinions without facts. Hence, we should avoid imposing our personal opinions and bias views on matters,” he says.

Similarly, Adeyemi advocates “serious consequences” for fake news, including a prison sentence or “huge fines” on media organisations or individuals who peddle fake news.

He adds, “People should not be quick to spread news that has not been confirmed by one or two credible media sources.”

Idowu also calls for “a lot of education” on the danger of fake news and highlights the need for constant verification of information.

Likewise, Lari-Williams says, “This can be done by using recognised reputable newspapers (and broadcast media), via their verified Twitter accounts or Instagram handles, to address and/or counter fake news when it rears its ugly head.”