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Social Media Being Poorly Used In Political Campaign

Published:Monday | February 15, 2016 | 12:17 PMAndre Poyser

While there are no official studies that track the use of social media in political campaigns in Jamaica, consultant psychologist Dr Leahcim Semaj is less than impressed with how it is being used in the ongoing election campaign.

"It is being poorly used ...; 99 per cent of the people who are using social media are amateurs, and so I still see a lot of that amateur behaviour now with the political use of social media," he told The Gleaner.

Semaj has observed that social media should be used to engage robust discussions to reach the undecided, but it is, instead, being used to appeal to diehard supporters.

"Much of it is just appealing to your base ... providing hilarious moments and ridicule and so on, but to the point where you are going to get things to go viral, to get people to engage in ideas and follow up on ideas, we are not seeing enough of that at all," he added.

Making comparisons with the use of social media by United States President Barack Obama, during his campaign for the presidency, Semaj pointed out that a fixed election date allowed for better planning and allowed him to get his message out early through social media.

Impact unclear

Dr Jermaine McCalpin, lecturer in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies (UWI), has said the impact of social media on influencing how people will vote in the elections remained unclear.

"I think social media must be understood in terms of its potential impact because of millennials. They have a short attention span, generally, and so things that are short and to the point tend to attract them more. Most of them will not read a JLP or PNP manifesto. Everybody wants things in 150 characters or less, or they want it short and to the point," he said.

In regards to the release of the manifestos of both parties, Semaj believes that social media is the ideal medium for their presentation.

"Social media is a brilliant place for them to be presented, so you will have it online and people will be able to click on it and access it and get all the information," he said.

Semaj lamented the fact that there is still a great reliance on traditional methods of campaigning and that discussions taking place on social media are not being driven by the political candidates themselves.

"The traditional methods are big street meetings, and those are still on, but I think that is basic and minimalist, and all that does is bring the diehards out who are willing to stand for hours to see their candidates, and a lot of that is still what there is. A lot of things are still traditional and we have not begun to use the tools effectively," he added.