The social media usage of politicians in Sri Lanka is still at early stages and it is apparent that Facebook is by far the most used social network by the political individuals and organisations. The use of Facebook by politicians in Sri Lanka began before the use of other social networks and numerous profiles have been set up ever since.
This analysis takes an in depth look at a few leading and prominent profiles and focuses on the objectives and goals that the politicians wish to achieve through Facebook. The politicians’ presence on Facebook is far more wider than their presence on Twitter. It is apparent that most of these pages were set up as part of election campaigns and quite a number of them have become inactive after the election days came to an end.
Taking a look at the Facebook page of President Mahinda Rajapakse, it should be noted that this is one of the most active Facebook pages among the Lankan politicians. Frequent updates are posted on the page and they normally feature the official activities of the President. The posts are accompanied by the links to official press releases as well as respective photographs, and at times photo albums. As of now, the page has almost 150,000 fans and is easily the most liked page of a Lankan politician. One specialty about this page is that posts are updated in all three languages, distinguishing itself from other political pages. Fans do not have the option of submitting posts on the page. However, the individual posts consistently attract considerable amounts of Likes and comments from followers.
Milinda Moragoda was among the first few Sri Lankan politicians to embrace social media channels. His facebook and Twitter pages have been around for quite a few years, compared to the recently set up pages of many of the politicians. In spite of being one of the oldest pages of the lot, it has comparatively few fans – around 25,000. Frequent posts are updated and among them are links to articles on his website, links to newspaper and web articles, photographs of his official activities and videos of recent television interviews. The posts, which are shared regularly, are updated in Sinhala and English and they attract a fair amount of Likes and comments.
Another prominent and active Facebook page in the Sri Lankan political arena is that of Sajith Premadasa. This page is updated daily with photographs, photo albums, announcements, videos, contact information and links to his other social media pages. The page has over 85,000 fans and attracts a large amount of Likes and comments for the individual posts. The fan participation on the page is at a high level, with many users sharing their views and opinions on the page.
The Facebook page of Thilanga Sumathipala is another account that has been around for a while. The specialty about this page is that over 90% of its posts are photo albums, relating to the events calendar of Thilanga Sumathipala, unlike most other pages where the posts are a collection of photos, videos, news etc. The page has accumulated over 12,000 fans and attracts a considerable amount of Likes and comments for its posts.
Popular film actor and politician Ranjan Ramanayake maintains an official Facebook page to showcase his political endeavours as well as to promote his films. The page is complete with various photographs, videos and links to news articles relating to him. One unique attribute about this account is that he also posts ‘memes’ on the page. These memes attract a high number of Likes and comments, inviting the audience to stay tuned with the page. With the popularity of memes at a high level, it is not a bad method to attract user engagement and interactions on the page. The page has almost 10,000 fans and the number is sure to increase rapidly with the growing popularity of the page. Like his Twitter account, it is apparent that Ranjan Ramanayake himself maintains the Facebook page and update its posts.
Among the other active Facebook pages, the accounts of Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Basil Rajapakse, Felix Perera and Buddhika Pathirana post frequent updates about the various events and news items. The pages of Namal Rajapakse, Karu Jayasuriya, Wimal Weerawansa and Ven Athuraliye Rathana Thero attract high fan engagements for posts. These active accounts have the advantage of gradually increasing their fan base as a result of the shares that their posts receive.
Taking a look at the political groups, the Facebook page of United National Party has attracted over 30,00 fans and is one of the most active Facebook pages. The page posts several updates a day that attract a considerable amount of fan following, comments and shares. The page updates its posts in both English and Sinhala and they mostly consist of illustrations, pictures, memes and news updates. The page administrators use the page to notify the general public of upcoming events and meetings. The most frequent posts are the opinions shared by the party members at various events and rallies.
Two Facebook pages belonging to Jathika Hela Urumaya and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress were found but both seemed to be inactive. Both these accounts seemed to have been set up for election propaganda and have not been accessed since the election days came to an end. These Facebook pages consist of photographs and illustrations promoting the parties as well as the member politicians. In addition to these two inactive political party Facebook pages, there’s a high amount of inactive individual accounts as well.
Most of these accounts have been pretty much active during the past election campaigns but have been inactive ever since. The pages of Champika Ranawaka, Johnston Fernando, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and Rosy Senanayake have had high engagement and proper user interactions but the pages haven’t been used for such purposes in the recent past. It is evident that most of these inactive accounts were set up and maintained in view of the past election campaigns.
Overall, it is highly encouraging to see so many politicians engaging in social media activity in Sri Lanka. Using such media is not only beneficial to the politician himself, but will also be helpful for the general public to gather news and information from reliable sources. With the ever increasing popularity of social media, more and more people are resorting to such channels as means of education, information and leisure. It is highly advisable to all politicians to set up a simple social media campaign in order to have a direct dialogue with their followers and also to collect information about work that could be done. The use of Facebook by politicians will also create a healthy atmosphere within the social network for freedom of speech and inter-political harmony.
Setting up and maintaining a Facebook page only in view of an election is not recommended. General users look for long term consistency and participation from the people they follow. Therefore, the effort being put in by the politicians to have an active Facebook page should be commended. Whatever the motive may be, people want to know what’s happening in the political arena and wish to share their opinions with the political representatives themselves, and a platform for that has been established.