A big change in political campaigning has emerged in South Africa since last national elections through the use of various social media sites.

A number of South African political parties have increased their use of social networking sites to reach potential voters.

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Whatsapp have played a significant part in electioneering in the run-up to the general elections on May 8.

Parties have opted to use these sites in various ways including the dissemination of manifestos, sharing of voter registration information and even personal videos of party leaders creating a more intimate experience of the party.

Co-founder of public relations company Own Your Throne, Balungile Memani, told Wits Vuvuzela that social media is the new age newspaper with all the necessary information. “It feeds us up with information on what we would like to hear,” Memani said.

“Political parties have found using social media to reach out to their audiences as more effective because people these days often consume everything on the internet. The influence social media has when deciding who to vote for is immensely impactful,” she added.

Wits postgraduate student, Siphiwe Jiyane, told Wits Vuvuzela that social media has had a significant influence on voting.  “Social media is at the forefront of these elections and its influencing who we are voting for. Social media brings to light certain issues that remind me of what I want in a politician and where I want this country to go,” Jiyane said.

“Through social media I have seen the opinions of the average South African regardless of age and what they think of the current state of affairs and what they defend, for example, the late Pieter Howe’s [political commentator], who raised important points on the current state of affairs that appealed to me most and played a massive role in who I won’t be voting for in these elections,” Jiyane said.

Fourth-year social work student from the University of Pretoria (UP), Lesedi Mphuthi, told Wits Vuvuzela that social media brings on a subtle form of peer pressure that most people succumb to when deciding who to vote for.

“Many people in South Africa have access to social media accounts and these platforms have a vast array of different opinions from different people. Some of these people are held in high regard and a lot of people idolize them and so what they say “has to be the right thing” and as a result, people find themselves being persuaded to vote for a certain party that they didn’t even think of in the first place,” Mphuthi said.

Beyond the parties though, social media platforms have also been used by voters to communicate with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) about their questions and difficulties while the IEC has taken advantage of the platforms to respond quickly.

FEATURED IMAGE: South Africans gear up early in the morning to cast their votes. Photo: Lwandile Shange.