Saturday, 28 June 2014

Online Comments and Social Media Can Stop Vote Rigging by Analysing Public Opinion
A number of American news portals have banned comments from readers and the most recent one being National Journal. The reason given by the editor in chief of the website is that negative comments cheapen and debase reader experience. In his exact words, he said "For every smart argument, there's a round of ad hominem attacks—not just fierce partisan feuding, but the worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable,"

The National Journal's editor may be write if you are dealing with internet trolls whose main purpose is to derail discussions in other to stifle public discuss on a particular topic. There are two types of internet trolls on the Nigerian web space, the juvenile teenager or adult who disrupts public discuss for fun and the professional well paid troll, he has a social status (e.g special adviser on new media), earns a living from propagating on behalf of the government what it wants the public to believe and will resort to threats, lies and personal attacks to stop people from talking about how terrible the government is.

The other kind of troll criticizes everything government related. He does not try to hide his identity because he knows the government is bad and sees what he does as a public service endeavor. To him, everything the government says is a lie and he cares less if he has to bring up unrelated issues to buttress his point on why the people in government are up to no good. Like every well meaning Nigerian (except those directly benefiting from the current arrangement), the governments irritates him and he is getting fed up.

Between these two groups are real Nigerians who vent frustrations whenever a story breaks about the financial recklessness of Nigerian public officials. This is where you find most Nigerians, literate, semi-literate and illiterate, they come online and try to throw weights here and there on issues (sex, tribal/religious politics and gossip) that gets their attention, but there is this emerging markets phenomenon described by Honourable Samson Osagie as "Stomach Infrastructure", the habit of queuing up in other to take handouts (bags of rice and cash) from politicians days before an election, this betrays their reaction whenever a corruption story breaks.

Governments and elites are starting to take online comments serious, some don't even tolerate it at all. A few days ago, the Malaysian Prime Minister sued an online news portal MalaysiaKini over comments made by its readers. Within the same period, Singapore's Prime Minister won a defamation suit against a blogger, the blogger managed to finance the court case against the prime minister via crowd funding and was able to raise enough money to pay his legal bills, that says a lot about public perception, this would reflect on election results, if Singapore organizes a general election today.

In Nigeria, Nairaland, Nigeria's biggest online forum was attacked and went offline for days. Now, this had me thinking about how powerful online comments are, giving the desire to control rather than manage (ban trolls) them. In most cases, online comments are anonymous, this allows users the freedom to freely express their views and comfortably pick sides without the fear of backlash.

In a normal electoral environment, individuals enjoy the same degree of anonymity and freedom while casting their votes. You place your thumbprint beside your preferred candidate in a secluded area of a polling station, walk towards the ballot box, cast/drop your vote in it, walk away and wait for the votes to be counted.

Online comments can also show a nation's political divide depending on what is being used to divide and conquer them. For Nigeria's democracy. It's been 15 years now, the fourth republic has gotten to that stage, gone are the days of political appeasement, patronage and dominance (Awolowo's incarceration, June 12 and the emergence of Obasanjo) and (Yar'Adua's/Norths return to power).

An ethnic minority is now in power, his rightful emergence as the acting President saw a lot of tribal and religious bickering, and he was later elected President out of pity, contempt for northern/Islamic hegemony and tribal patronage which was so not obvious then.

Today nothing has changed, Nigeria has a President who is intentionally dividing the country along tribal and religious lines. A President who out of desire to become a southern oligarch has intentionally opened a corruption buffet, institutions are intentionally weakened while strong men and personalities are being resurrected and created via the doctrine of "go and sin no more" and looting. Ultra supporters and patriotic Nigerians have emerged and by the pattern of online comments, Nigerians have never been this openly divided on tribal and religious lines since the civil war.

A careful look at the pattern of online comments can indicate to a reasonable extent, if there will be riots and demonstrations after the announcement of an election result.

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