The election is drawing near and we’re seeing a lot of political posts on social media and of course memes targeted at some of the main candidates who are expected to run for the elections this time around. So how then, can social media be used during the upcoming elections?
Social media in a participatory role
Social media essentially allows anybody with internet access to become a content creator immediately. It does empower users in that sense and can allow the public to have an active role in political discourse. That said anybody can also create content that could spark communal unrest and social tension during the elections, which will have to be regulated with the right rules brought in place before the election and continued for some time immediately after the election. Blocking off social media completely would not really solve the matter as people do use VPNs to log into their social media anyway.
Social media as a news source and fake news threat
A short time ago, the role that social media platforms like Facebook plays in elections was heavily scrutinized after some evidence surfaced to show that Facebook could have manipulated political propaganda. Similarly, it has to be noted that most young adults and adults will use their social media as the main news source from which they can get updated on the elections. Therefore, the threat of fake news and the role that it could play to provide people with fake information and even rekindle communal unrest is significant and cannot be ignored.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission has, even before regulated the use of social media (recently during times of social unrest) by completely blocking social media platforms and even slowing down internet from service providers. There are two sides to this. The blocking of social media was quickly rendered obsolete by people using VPNs to access it anyway. On the other hand, rather than helping it curb the spread of insulting memes and fake news, it further fuelled it as people began mocking the government for its lack of authority and how they would block social media for everything.
According to statistics, there are;
- Six million active social media users in Sri Lanka of which Facebook users have increased to five million in 2018.
- Women between the ages of 18-24 are on Facebook than men.
As such for this election, the government could regulate social media with the TRC by educating people on what they can and cannot post, minimizing the visibility of politically biased Facebook posts both posted by people and the politicians themselves, blocking and taking down pages that promote tension.