#Democracy : a case study of social media use amongst members of the public sphere during the 2014 South African general election.
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At present social media is used by 28% of the world’s population. The use has naturally penetrated the political sphere where social media presence in election periods is a global growing phenomenon. However, limited research has been conducted examining political social media use in South Africa despite calls for social media research in developing contexts and the pervasiveness of social media use amongst the country’s netizens. In addressing this the dissertation defines the uses of social media during election periods and illustrates how social media was used during the 2014 South African general election. Finally, the study also determines whether social media contributed to the democracy of the country. The researcher used Jϋrgen Habermas’s theory of the public sphere as the theoretical underpinning of the study. An exploratory case study method was employed as the main research method with web archiving, a thematic analysis of Twitter trends and observation adopted as sub-methods. Research was limited to the most popular social media sites in the country: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Mxit. The findings demonstrate that social media was used by the country’s public, the traditional mass media, politicians and political parties, civil society actors and the IEC as part of their undertakings during the election period. The study also found that during the election period an online public sphere was realised in the country and, as a result, facilitated the creation of public opinion by creating communication channels between the electorate and other electoral actors. The dialogues that took place online showed signs of deliberation and was given consideration by the relevant authorities. Finally, the online public sphere regulated the state by enlightening them on public concerns and holding them accountable for their actions.