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Virtual election campaigns heat up on social media

  • Published at 01:48 pm December 20th, 2018
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Representational photo Bigstock

With the public hooked on Facebook and Twitter, political parties are using the platforms to reach out to voters

As the 11th parliamentary elections are approaching, social media platforms—particularly Facebook and Twitter—are being used by political parties to campaign and woo voters. 

Every time there is a general election, campaign materials appear on streets, as well as in markets, cities, and villages across the country. 

However, the situation has changed drastically over the last decade with the country’s surprising progress in using internet and information technology. 

There are 88.68 million internet users in Bangladesh as of July this year, according to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). The majority of them—82.91%—access mobile internet services.

With more people hooked on Facebook and Twitter, than ever before, political parties are using internet and social media platforms to reach out to voters.

The political activists of key parities in the country—Awami League and BNP—are maximizing the use of social media as a campaign tool. 

Compared to traditional campaigning tools—such as posters, banners, placards, festoons, and loudspeakers—audiovisual materials on social media help vying parties reach more people easily, quickly, and at a very low cost.  

Awami League, with its “Digital Bangladesh” vision, uses its verified accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and its own mobile application, to reach the public.

Their accounts and pages share political posts every hour including: political news, press releases, videos, the election manifesto, etc. 

Awami League candidates—including other leaders and activists—are also running election campaigns from their individual accounts to convince voters to cast votes for ”The Boat”. 

Additionally, on behalf of the ruling party, a number of unofficial pages like “Nouka Markay Vote Din” and “Jamaat-BNP Jot Sarkerer Dushshashon” are also active. These pages share information about irregularities and corruption by the government. 

Prime Minister and Awami League President Sheikh Hasina does not have an official or personal account on Facebook and Twitter. Her son and ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy, on the other hand, has a verified Facebook and Twitter account. 

The party’s top brass has directed its leaders and activists to become more active online; to counter anti-Awami League propaganda. Recently, the Prime Minister’s Political Adviser HT Imam told party members to be prepared for a “big online battle” during the next election.

Awami League think-tank Centre for Research and Information (CRI) produces web content to highlight the government's successes. 

CRI Associate Coordinator Tonmoy Ahmed said online content and campaigns are more effective than traditional methods of campaigning.

“Awami League is using social media platforms to reach out to the young and educated sections of society,” he said.

Senior Awami League leaders said various quarters have tried to manipulate several recent movements for political gain by spreading anti-government propaganda.

Recently, ruling party student front—Bangladesh Chhatra League—announced it was forming a cyber brigade. Former and current student leaders opened a Facebook page “Gujobe Kan Diben Na” to counter BNP-Jamaat’s propaganda.

Awami League sources said the party is prioritizing online campaigns, as determined by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her son Joy. Joy, in May last year, urged the party MPs to highlight the government’s achievements on social media.

“It is an era of publicity … we will have to publicize our development activities to fight the dissemination of misinformation against us,” Joy said.

Last week, in parliament, State Minister for Information Tarana Halim urged ruling party MPs to have their Facebook pages verified so that no one can spread false information using fake IDs.

On the other hand, BNP—the main opposition of Awami League—which has been largely absent from the streets, is using social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to campaign. 

It also issued instructions to its activists to highlight its past achievements and demands, plus conduct anti-Awami League campaigns. 

BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia joined Twitter in September 2016. She also inaugurated a: website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a BNP blog.

Khaleda’s media wing official Sairul Kabir Khan said they post, daily, event news and stories on their pages. 

“The party’s demands are also shared on the pages as part of the campaign,” he recently told the Dhaka Tribune. 

BNP, on these pages, highlights: its activities, arrests of its leaders, their demands—including the release of Khaleda, among others—on these pages.

Sairul said a number of other pages are managed by BNP grassroots activists and supporters, some even from abroad, to promote the party and its leaders.

BNP Standing Committee member and former minister Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury said the “current situation” was preventing the party’s young activists from taking part in street campaigns. 

“However, they are campaigning online by focusing on the activities of the party and its leaders,” he said.

Apart from BNP’s official Facebook page, there are several unofficial pages which are carrying out election campaigns in favour of individuals voting for their symbol, the paddy sheaf. 

They also highlight the recent quota reform and road safety movements; criticizing the role of the government and trying to convince young voters to “vote for Paddy Sheaf” in order to bring change to the country. 

Candidates from other parties—like Jatiya Party, Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami including left-leaning parties—are also carrying out their candidates’ campaigns on social media.

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