Facebook usage in political communication in Ghana: the case of two political parties.
Boateng, Akwasi Bosompem.
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The emergence and spread of social media are changing activities in many walks of life. These technologies have ushered in a digital era that has transformed communication, engagements and relationships. Social media have revolutionised how political communication and politics, particularly electoral processes are also done. This study is centred in Ghana and investigated how Facebook is used in intra-party elections by New Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress. Since the New Patriotic Party took over the reign of political power in 2017, there has been a considerable rise in political vigilantism in Ghana, which some have attributed to lack of direct access to parties and officials due to limited time given to stakeholders during “phone-in” segments on political programmes in traditional media. There are also debates as to whether social media have improved political communication and participation in Africa. More so, studies conducted on political use of social media in Ghana have not explored their appropriation in intra-party elections. The purpose of this study is to shed new light on the debate regarding social media usage in political communication in Africa, examining how Facebook is appropriated by political parties in Ghana. The study employed qualitative and quantitative techniques (mixed methods approach) in sequential triangulation of interviews and content analysis. Underpinned by interpretative and pragmatic paradigms, this study conducted interviews with communication officials of New Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress. Contents of Facebook posts of the parties were analysed to corroborate or dispute data collected from interviews. Observations were also made from visits and activities of parties during data collection. The transcribed data was thematically organised for the study to analyse and present in narrative forms. Data from content analysis of Facebook was also coded and put into figures, numbers and tabular formats. This study anchored on the theories of technology appropriation, relationship management, and agenda setting. Generally, this study indicated that political parties in Ghana particularly New Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress use social media especially Facebook in political communication and intra-party elections. However, the parties were particularly using Facebook for public information purposes instead of establishing mutually beneficial relationships through interactive engagements and two-way symmetrical communication on the social networking site, or perhaps not making good use of Facebook especially in internal elections. Parties considered and delivered social media communication on ad-hoc value without concerted efforts and political public relations strategies to maximise potentials. Inasmuch as political parties in Ghana demonstrated the desire to establish relationships by creating pages on vii Facebook to get closer to stakeholders and the public, they could not achieve this. They have focused their attention on passive traditional communication without reconsidering their activities to improve social media use especially “Facebooking” for interactions and mutually beneficial engagements and relationships. This study suggests that political parties improve interactions and conversations with stakeholders. Parties need to create political public relations units of communication professionals with expertise and skills to advice and manage social media engagements as specialised activities to extend mutually beneficial relationships. Communication officials of parties have to be trained in political public relations and social media for more knowledge and understanding of the opportunities and challenges associated with these new forms of communication technologies to harness their utility.