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Social media key to election campaigns

Published: 
Thursday, June 7, 2018
UWI researcher on digital strategy
Dr Indrani Bachan-Persad

In the build-up to the 2015 general election the People’s National Movement (PNM) had a “more targeted and aggressive” social media campaign focused on the “undecideds especially the youths” and also the marginal constituencies.

And this social media strategy eventually resulted in the political party being voted into office, Dr Indrani Bachan-Persad has said.

Although the United National Congress (UNC) also increased its social media presence in the build-up to the general election that party “targeted mostly traditional, mature voters,” Bachan-Persad said.

Bachan-Persad made the statements as she delivered the findings of her paper “The Growing Influence of Social Media in the 2015 National Elections in Trinidad and Tobago” during a forum held by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies yesterday.

Bachan-Persad’s paper was a follow up to her book “Mediatized Political Campaigns: A Caribbean Perspective” which focused on the role of mainstream media in five election campaigns in Trinidad and Tobago from 2000-2010.

The 2015 general election campaign saw the increased use of social media platforms in reaching large communities across the country, Bachan-Persad said.

Bachan-Persad said between the 2010 and 2015 general elections the PNM gained 91,000 votes.

She said this was as a result of the PNM’s “targeted and sophisticated” digital campaign using Facebook and YouTube.

The PNM utilised the services of Washington-based company Vestige Services in the build-up to the 2015 general election, Bachan-Persad said.

Apps such as Nation Builder and Organiser were used to assist in the eight marginal constituencies.

“These apps create profiles of users, links social media profiles to email addresses in database and target supporters and send personalised information to them,” she said.

Bachan-Persad said one of the issues that affected the UNC was that they used approximately five advisory groups in the build up to the 2015 general election.

“The mixed messaging which emerged from the UNC campaign suggests that these varied groups had contradictory viewpoints,” she said.

“The use of multiple foreign campaign advisers and strategists also posed challenges of understanding the complexity of small island politics with its intertwining/ intersecting and interlocking relationships within a multi-ethnic society and had an adverse effect on race relations in an otherwise harmonious society,” Bachan-Persad said citing the “No Rowley” campaign.

Bachan-Persad said traditional media played a “mediated role in managing relations in the country in the way they reporters on elections in the past”.

At the forum, journalist Curtis Williams spoke of the impact social media has had on mainstream media.

Williams said because social media allows users to go live and immediately post information, the “fixed timelines” of mainstream media have been challenged.

“Traditional media must ensure that they remain the source of reliable news and not be tempted to compete with social media only on the basis of breaking news. Traditional media will have to be keenly aware of the prevalence of fake news and use their best journalism training to ask the right questions,” he said.

“The mainstream media must separate themselves from the citizen journalists by the quality of the research and stories they come up with and in the process must be protected to investigate and bring forth truth in the public’s interest,” he said.

Also presenting yesterday was UWI lecturer Dr Scott Timcke while Dr Hamid Ghany the Director of SALISES chaired the forum.

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