One dramatic way that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected democracy worldwide is the abandonment of mass physical political rallies and gatherings and the shift, instead, towards virtual rallies on live social media to reach millions of voters and potential voters.
Ghana’s elections, having been organized in the midst of the pandemic, saw virtual armies and viral troll factories battle it out on popular social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube.
The various social media platforms were saturated with Ghana’s celebrity political endorsements.
A popular Ghanaian actor John Dumelo contested in the elections to become a legislator on the ticket of the main opposition party NDC. He got lots of likes, comments and shares on social media and his activities went viral but in terms of actual votes on D-day, he lost the elections.
Another famous dancehall artist composed a song and held live social media sessions campaigning 4more4 Nana; meaning the sitting President Nana Akufo-Addo deserves another four-year mandate to rule for his second term.
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On the last day of the campaign, the President Nana Akufo-Addo held a physical campaign rally the old-fashioned way in Accra. I guess he had given up on the power of social media alone to make him win the 2020 elections.
After his musical performance, the entertainer attempted to raise the hands of the President to the crowd but he was swiftly cut off by the President’s personal security detail. This short incident captured on video went viral the weekend before elections and got everyone trolling the ‘’Sweet Mistake’’ dancehall artist!
The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo himself gave some viral sound bites for social media when he mistakenly endorsed his party’s parliamentary opponent ‘’NII LANTEY VANDAPUIJE whiles holding up the hand of his party’s candidate NII LANTEY BANNERMAN at Odododiodio constituency.
This video was one of the most viral of the campaign videos and got Ghanaians laughing out loud.
The social media prophets cum naysayers had a field day predicting the outcome of the elections. Many have now swallowed their pride.
But wait. There was ‘’Papa No’’. Here, two girls, actress and musician, were fighting over and revealing their sexual escapades with ‘Gov official one’ in viral live videos.
Social media resurrected the story, nurtured and sustained it through the election’s peak campaigns. It was a weapon in the hands of ruling NPP party troll factory.
But that was only in response to an earlier video released by the Salis newspaper in which President Akufo Addo is seen receiving a brown envelope containing cash.
The hash tag presidential bribery challenge emerged from the opposition troll factory and went viral in the dying hours of the campaign.
The alleged bribery viral videos went so viral and so brutal that the president of Ghana requested Facebook to take down the video flagged as disinformation.
This also followed the viral epistles that resigned special prosecutor Martin Amidu who after leaving office abruptly, wrote and published an article alleging that the President was the ‘’mother serpent of corruption’’ and accused the President of interfering in his work as independent prosecutor of corruption and corruption related offenses.
Martin Amidu’s last minute surprising assault on the President and the ruling government sought to create an impression that the opposition was winning the war on social media.
The opposition troll factories appeared to have had enough ammunition for the infinite social media viral news cycle.
Disinformation as a weapon of mass deception facilitated by social media, amplified by Covid-19 pandemic became the center of the campaigns rather than the real issues that affect the lives of the Ghanaian people.
Each party decided the end will justify the means; win by hook or crook.
Some videos have emerged after the elections. In one video, army officers are shooting live bullets into the crowd in Techiman South constituency.
Some people are reported and confirmed dead and others are injured. Thanks to social media, everyone has seen the video of the shooting soldiers.
It seems like a grave injustice. It appears to boost the opposition’s rejection of the final verdict despite the NDC’s Presidential candidate trailing behind the sitting President by about 500,000 popular votes in the overall national tally.
Social media in Ghana celebrated Ghana Union Movement (GUM) a new party on the block spearheaded by an over confident pastor who calls himself the new Kwame Nkrumah and who came third in the pools behind only the two main political parties – NDC/NPP.
GUM obtained 0.80% of the overall valid votes’ casts – more votes than the other 9 opposition parties and candidates who were on the ballot paper.
As a first timer, many Ghanaians did not take the pastor and his party seriously but at the end, the GUM went viral for the right reasons.
Those who remain in the election news cycle are the leaders of the opposition NDC. Former President John Mahama served notice that he and his party will ‘’resist any attempts by the ruling government to subvert the will of the people’’.
It is still not clear what he means as all international and local observers including the EU, US etc. have affirmed that Ghana’s elections were held in a free fair, transparent and peaceful manner.
It is yet to be seen if the opposition leader will go to court to seek redress. He has 21 days after declaration to take that option.
Although many groups and organizations have asked the former President to proceed to court if he has grievances, the opposition leader is calling for an ‘’independent audit’’ of the 2020 election results.
That sounds like putting the cart before the horse.
It remains unclear what independent body besides the electoral commission has the power to audit election results in Ghana.
Others have asked the former President to go to court so that if he and his party’s case have merit, the Supreme Court will order an independent audit like it was done during the 2013 election petition.
This rather bizarre approach by Mr. Mahama has raised questions on social media as to whether or not the former President and his opposition party truly have a case that can withstand legal scrutiny beyond short-term political propaganda purposes to avoid taking responsibility for a second time defeat in the hands of the same political opponent.
“The political activities on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and online news portals, all fed into mainstream media. But social media momentum was also reinforced by the insinuations and counter reactions and the displayed sentiments of mainstream media. This formed a cognitive emotive loop, where the media and modern political culture of campaign produced political outcomes that fueled the rightness of the social media stories”.
In the process for most of the voters, there is no easy differentiation between fantasy, fiction or facts though all is based on storytelling and story selling. The one whose story sells persuades and wins the day.
By Sacut Amenga-Etego