The South African IEC attempted to improve democratic participation via digital initiatives in 2019. Their social media activities showed potential, but a critical review shows the problems of young digital participation, including misinformation elimination and civic engagement.
Problems and Purpose
According to statistical data, the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) launched the Xsê Social Media Campaign in response to electoral system issues. The rising number of eligible voters and the stable voter registration rate are concerning. Election figures show a 47.2% increase in voter registration since the first official voters' roll was created in 1999 (Schulz-Herzenberg, 2020: p. 6). More than 26 million individuals enlisted at the start of the campaign (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: p. 9). The increase in voter registration has not kept pace with the increase in the voting-age population. Concerning trends emerged while analysing the 2014 election results. In 2009, the voter turnout was 77%, but in 2014, it declined to 74% (Schulz-Herzenberg, 2020: p. 5). A more alarming picture emerged when demographic data was analysed. The voter turnout rate for eligible persons aged 18 to 29 in the 2014 election was 27% (Schulz-Herzenberg, 2020: p. 18). The results of the study provide insight into a significant concern that presents a threat to the future democratic system of the country, especially among its younger population. In response, the campaign implemented strategic interventions.
The effort aimed to increase voter registration rates across age cohorts and reduce registration disparities, particularly among the young. Based on data analysis, targeted outreach was implemented (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: p. 25). The campaign claimed to have used innovative communication and instructional methods to educate people about the importance of voting and their ability to shape the country's future. The campaign extensively engaged marginalised groups, including prisoners and South African immigrants (ibid.: p. 25). The data shows that these groups consistently have lower registration rates, underlining the need for tailored programs to involve them in politics (ibid.: p. 25). The program registered prisoners in prisons to exercise their democratic rights. Through its 120 overseas embassies, the South African government aggressively supported writing South African citizens abroad to engage with its nationals abroad (ibid.: p. 25). Besides helping new registrations, the campaign stressed updating voter information (ibid.: p. 25).
Previous previous cycles showed that outdated or incorrect information caused voter roll disparities. The campaign highlighted personal data updates to strengthen the election database. Their website and Voting Station Finder app let users verify and update their registration data, improving the voter register (ibid.: p. 25). The Xsê Social Media Campaign sought to close the registration gap, boost civic involvement, and strengthen South Africa's democracy. However, the usefulness and influence of this approach have been questioned, especially given the persistent challenges of voter registration and engagement among youth and other marginalised groups. The campaign's success in turning statistical data into actionable measures and increasing voter involvement in South Africa was evaluated.
Background History and Context
The formation of the IEC was stipulated under the Republic of South Africa's Constitution (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996: p. 96). This autonomous entity functions autonomously, answerable only to itself and its legal framework (ibid: p. 96). The Commission must preserve fairness, accuracy, accountability, transparency, and responsiveness while monitoring state and municipal elections (Electoral Commission of South Africa, n.d: pp. 3 - 4). The fundamental goal of the Commission is to address the requirements of voters (ibid.: pp. 3 - 4). The Commission has been assisting South Africa in its transition from apartheid to democracy since 1994 (ibid.: p. 2). Following the 1994 democratic elections, South Africa's political and institutional structure altered dramatically, and the Commission's contribution was remarkable (ibid.: p. 2). Political parties' maturity and the public's expectations of election procedures grew, requiring the IEC to adjust and strengthen its operations (ibid.: pp. 3 - 4). The Commission's services and infrastructure have evolved to fulfil better constituents' needs, including voters, political groups, candidates, the press, and the public (ibid.: pp. 3 - 4).
The Commission established primary goals to direct its efforts toward achieving its stated goals. These goals included boosting institutions' efficiency, holding free and fair elections, getting people and groups involved in the electoral process, and increasing openness in electoral politics and party financing (ibid: pp. 3 - 4). The Commission's primary goal was to ensure the continued successful execution of its fundamental mandate. According to the Constitution, the Commission is responsible for overseeing and announcing the results of elections for national, provincial, and local legislative bodies and safeguarding the freedom and fairness of these elections (ibid: pp. 3 - 4). In addition, the Commission has the jurisdiction to regulate electoral procedures such as party finance, party registration, and interactions with political bodies thanks to the authorities and functions defined by national legislation (ibid: pp. 3 - 4).
Organising, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The IEC’s important digital Xsê campaign heralded a sea change in electoral strategy for South Africa's 2019 National and Provincial Elections. As part of this unprecedented effort, the IEC partnered with organisations including Media Monitoring Africa, Media24, The Space Station, The Citizen, and Sowetan online newspapers to better understand and combat online misinformation and increase citizen participation (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: p. 33). The IEC managed its finances within the limits of its appropriation from parliament (ibid.: pp. 86 - 87). This financing allowed the commission to carry out its many functions, including paying administrative costs, salaries for commission members, leasing office space, and organising certain election-related events (ibid: pp. 86 - 89). The allotment was crucial in maintaining the IEC's operating efficiency and making sure the elections went off without a hitch.
The IEC took strategic alliances and preventative actions in response to the growing threat of digital misinformation (ibid: p. 35). The media research and monitoring firm Media Monitoring Africa emerged as a crucial ally. Together, they built an online portal, www.real411.co.za, to accept and examine complaints linked to suspected deception (ibid: p. 35). This open and welcoming effort aimed to dispel myths and protect the legitimacy of the voting process. The online publications Media24, The Space Station, The Citizen, and Sowetan all collaborated with the IEC to increase the impact of their digital outreach initiatives (ibid: p. 33). These collaborations disseminated reliable election data, and falsehoods were countered. The IEC initiated an extensive online marketing push using popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter (ibid: p. 33). This effort did more than educate the public on essential election dates; it also gave participants agency throughout the voting process. Media24, a renowned media organisation, helped close the gap between youths' academic success and their engagement in the political process (ibid: p. 33). Media24 engaged the youth in the electoral process with targeted email and SMS advertisements centred on the matric results webpage (ibid: p. 27). Banner advertising and other digital media assets were deliberately placed by The Space Station, a digital media sales business, to increase the IEC's message's exposure (ibid: p. 33). The campaign's reach was further expanded by partnerships with online publications, including The Citizen and Sowetan, which published election coverage in real-time and reached a broad audience (ibid: p. 33).
The IEC's digital Xsê campaign successfully instils a feeling of civic responsibility and encourages active involvement among the electorate because of its mix of interactive material and informational updates. Citizens were better prepared to assess material found online thanks to digital literacy seminars, digital disinformation education initiatives, and media training workshops.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The IEC's Xsê campaign helped South Africa's election by encouraging underrepresented citizens to vote. South African youth under 30 are alienated; hence, the Xsê campaign was developed (ibid: p. 27). The IEC sought to boost minority voting and political power by critically examining the Xsê campaign's systematic approach to youth involvement with objective evaluations. Studying campaign participation patterns can reveal the IEC's approach and impact on the target audience. The Xsê ad explored youth internet behaviours. Digital channels are ubiquitous.
Thus, the IEC intentionally exploited them to reach potential participants. South African youth are the targets of attention on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube—the IEC's impartial analysis of channels led to targeted content generation and delivery methods (ibid: p. 33). The Xsê campaign targeted youth by giving unbiased internet usage data. Analysing their digital footprints informed the campaign's engagement methods (ibid: p. 33). Social media analytics revealed youth’s preferred platforms, peak use hours, and content preferences (ibid: p. 33). With this knowledge, the IEC timed their digital outreach to peak youth online activity. The IEC impartially examined local networks and grassroots groups' influence on youth decision-making.
Strategic partnerships with influencers helped the campaign affect local communities (ibid: p. 21). These influencers instantly promoted the campaign due to their impartial community knowledge (October, 2023a). The IEC attempted to win over communities and sparked grassroots youth engagement by personalising the campaign to community values and aspirations. Xsê employed online outreach and community engagement to critically analyse voter education's influence on youth involvement. Due to the importance of knowledge, the IEC neutrally assessed youth's voting knowledge. By objectively evaluating participant input, the IEC improved its instructional strategies by ensuring its information was authentic and understandable to youth. After objectively studying the youths' intentions, the Xsê campaign decided not to give financial incentives. Instead of financial incentives, the program promoted civic obligation among the youth (ibid: p. 17). Analysis of psychological clues and social factors informed the advertising plan (ibid: p. 33). The campaign attracted youth to join because it addressed their ambitions for a better society and desire to be heard in politics. Therefore, the youth were encouraged to join to improve their nation despite the lack of financial incentives.
Methods and Tools Used
The IEC's Xsê digital campaign took careful planning and a complex, multipronged strategy that used various resources. Each tactic was selected and implemented with a critical and objective eye toward increasing youth engagement and stimulating substantive discussion about the political process. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube were used strategically in the campaign to reach and engage the youth's target audience (ibid: p. 33). While this strategy effectively reached a broad audience, the widespread proliferation of false information constituted a significant obstacle (ibid: p. 35). Campaign planners had to respond with educational activities, balancing interesting material and correct information (ibid: p. 35). At the same time, grassroots organisations, influencers, and local communities were actively involved in outreach efforts. This individualised strategy increased voter registration and participation at the grass-roots level.
However, coordination and resource allocation were just two of the many logistical difficulties that were constantly present and required flexible approaches. Messages were crafted to appeal to people of varying cultural backgrounds using linguistic analysis, a technique that involves the study of language trends among certain groups. The careful selection of "Xsê," a colloquial South African idiom, underlined the campaign's attention to language intricacies and cultural sensitivity. The diverse South African languages and accents presented a difficulty that required constant adjustment. Insights gained from social media analytics on youth's online habits were extremely helpful in planning the time and content of digital outreach initiatives. However, serious concerns about data privacy and accuracy loomed, necessitating solid protections. In addition, the campaign collaborated with members of civil society and established media outlets to launch digital disinformation campaigns (ibid: p. 35). A website that receives reports of false information has been set up to promote digital accountability (ibid: p. 35).
Campaign organisers had to balance allowing people to express themselves and prevent the spreading of incorrect information freely. These approaches and instruments were picked by an apparent "theory of change." The IEC's goal, as mentioned before, was to promote youth empowerment by disseminating truthful information, promoting civic duty, and encouraging diversity and tolerance (ibid: pp. 25 - 27). Therefore, the organisers (IEC) used tactics such as social media participation, language analysis, analytics, and the digital disinformation project to achieve the campaign's main aims. The organisers' ability to respond to shifting circumstances while remaining dedicated to the democratic values underpinning the political process was crucial to the campaign's success, which was complicated by the range of options available.
What Went On Process, Interaction, and Participation
The campaign combined creative social media tactics with careful organisation to promote substantive discussions, reliable information, and disinformation mitigation. The campaign used modern technologies to engage broader audiences and spark lively debates using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube (ibid: p. 33). Influencer integration was crucial to the Xsê campaign's success. Influencers with average social media followings excitedly impacted the campaign (October 2023b). These influencers amplified the campaign message and attempted to spread crucial information to the community through their influence. These personalities improved the campaign's exposure and gave their audiences a sense of validity and dependability (ibid: 2023b). The IEC optimised its outreach efforts by aligning influencers with campaign goals, ensuring accurate information transmission across various social sectors—modern technology, like chatbots, improved real-time public engagement (ibid: p. 32). Artificial intelligence-powered chatbots quickly answer user questions, fix difficulties, and provide vital information (ibid: p. 32). Their presence has made engagement more efficient and user-friendly, allowing people to receive information quickly.
Statistical data from the campaign shows that these chatbots work. It notes that the Facebook chatbot handled 17,000 more queries (ibid: p. 32). The campaign maintained audience engagement on social media by sticking to a publishing schedule. The IEC's Facebook campaign averaged 0.014% interaction (October 2023b).
Figure 2 Facebook post with an Influencer who achieved the most engagement from their campaign. Source: https://www.facebook.com/IECSouthAfrica
A post with 4.59% engagement on May 3, 2019, right before Election Day, was the highest engagement rate the IEC received from their organic social media posts (ibid.: 2023b). Peak involvement throughout the campaign shows its ability to attract attention, encourage active participation, and spark discourse (October 2023b). Instagram, an essential campaign medium, saw a notable user interaction trend. With a 0.28% engagement rate, the platform enabled continual interactions (ibid.: 2023b). The engagement rate in this study implies long-term interest and connection despite its modest level. From 0.92% in 2019, Twitter engagement rates increased from previous non-media campaign years (ibid.: 2023b). Increasing figures show the campaign's internet methods are working to some extent and that the public liked the material.
People with different demographics and experiences shaped the discourse. They spoke their opinions, sought clarification, and corrected misinformation in interactions (ibid.: 2023b). Social media comments have become active outlets for South African societies' viewpoints (ibid.: 2023b). Like the campaign's Facebook chatbot, which handled 17,000 more queries, the statistical analysis showed high engagement (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: p. 32). The rise in inquiries led to public participation and the campaign's capacity to reply quickly, ensuring information delivery. Topics covered during the campaign were voter registration, election probes, and countering misinformation. Participants were free to speak, bringing varied opinions. The campaign's broad strategy and clever tools encouraged nuanced and well-informed conversation, increasing involvement. A diverse spectrum of viewpoints permitted an extended interchange of ideas, enhancing conversation and building national solidarity via common knowledge. Although the campaign did not make suggestions, it aimed to provide factual information, raise awareness, and combat misconceptions (October 2023b). Active involvement from diverse backgrounds in the conversation showed inclusion. Many viewpoints and experiences enhanced the discourse, strengthening national cohesion and unity via shared knowledge and understanding. Transparency of factual information was crucial for the campaign's success in building a well-informed, resistant-to-disinformation public. A coordinated strategy between government officials, organisers, and participants ensures a broad distribution of dependable and exact campaign results (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: pp. 71 - 72). This deliberate distribution technique educates the public and gives them the tools to make informed decisions (Schneider & Foot, 2005: pp.3 - 4).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Youth participation in society and digital connectivity are the focus.
During the 2019 National and Provincial Elections, the IEC increased its digital presence and youth engagement. The IEC's strategies increased Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram followers and interaction. Twitter, noted for its fast user connections, increased its follower count from 196,000 to 214,000 between January and May 2019 (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: p. 33). As of March 2019, the IEC's Facebook page had over 343,000 likes, indicating a wide range of connections. Popular among the youth, Instagram reached 2,500 followers (ibid: p. 33). This marks the IEC's Instagram debut. YouTube has helped attract younger viewers. Over 160,000 people saw the IEC's registration TV campaign, proving its efficacy (ibid: p. 33). An educational video for digital platforms garnered 844,000 views, showing how personalised content may attract the youth (ibid: p. 33). YouTube pre-voting advertising exceeded 2.1 million impressions and 107,000 views (ibid: p. 33). Youth voters are exposed to and view these posts/ads, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are effective.
Misinformation reduction and trust building are the issues.
The IEC collaborates with civil society and the media to combat digital misinformation. The website www.real411.co.za allowed visitors to report falsehoods (ibid: pp. 35 – 36)). Over the trial project, 74 complaints were made (ibid: pp. 35 - 36). Social media experts, media representatives, and civil society partners examined the concerns. This shows the IEC's proactive misinformation management. Authenticating campaign materials on www.real411.co.za helped political parties, and stakeholders promote transparency and accountability (ibid: p. 35 - 36).
Voter education and awareness are of interest.
The IEC's voter education programs attempted to raise civic awareness and informed involvement, especially among young people. Traditional media channels, including television, radio, and billboards, reached 97% of voters, spreading important voting information (ibid: p. 95). Multimedia civic education (CDE) via newspapers, television, and radio was successful, with 82%, 92%, and 94% of voters considering it beneficial (ibid: p. 95). The IEC's registration television advertising and YouTube educational films received enormous viewers, proving the internet campaign's effectiveness in educating residents about the election process, assessing the effects of a program or intervention, and maintaining touch.
Technology advancements may help with juvenile voter registration.
Despite the IEC's efforts, 18- and 19-year-old registration dropped 47% for the 2019 elections compared to 2014 (Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2019). The number of registered voters in this age group dropped from 646,313 in 2014 to 341,236 in 2019 (ibid: 2019). This omission has prompted questions regarding youth outreach efforts. The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) urged the IEC to include this crucial information in its Home Affairs Portfolio Committee report (ibid: 2019). This information needed to be improved, hindering Parliament's monitoring (ibid: 2019). The IEC responded that they deployed technology to reach younger voters to solve this problem (ibid: 2019). The IEC representative responded that web-based programs updated the voter roll remotely, removing the need for maps and barcodes. This innovative technique may help future projects solve the 2019 decrease in young voter registration. (ibid: 2019) In February 2019, the web-based method effectively engaged with schools and rapidly enrolled young voters but didn’t address the original question of why they omitted the statistic from their official report.
A Study of Voter Registration Inequality
Voter registration has grown in South Africa throughout six democratic elections, adding 2 million voters per cycle (Schulz-Herzenberg, 2020: pp. 5 - 6). The growth in this factor has not kept pace with the expanding voting-age population (Schulz-Herzenberg, 2020: pp. 5 - 6). An estimated 9 million eligible voters were unregistered in the 2019 election (Schulz-Herzenberg, 2020: pp. 5 - 6). Geographic and sociodemographic differences affect voter registration and turnout, with certain regions having more excellent rates (Schulz-Herzenberg, 2020: pp. 5 - 6). These discrepancies must be understood to establish targeted voter participation initiatives in disenfranchised communities.
IEC trust and young involvement are of significant scientific attention
Figure 3 Survey Question: Do you trust the IEC to deliver free and fair elections? Source: October, 2023a
An online survey created by the author, cross-referencing the IEC’s reports, was conducted with 51 participants (October 2023a). The participants were 21–33 ( the prime age for the IEC’s campaign during the 2019 election year) (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: p. 25). The survey provided a nuanced view of IEC confidence and election engagement. Several participants defined faith in the IEC's purpose and aim (October, 2023a). The survey results on popular confidence in the IEC exhibit similarities to the findings documented by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Afrobarometer (2021), as seen in the following visual representation:
Figure 4 Afrobarometer: Freeness and fairness of the last national election. Source: https://www.afrobarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/summary_of_results-south_africa_r8_26nov21.pdf
The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is regarded as South Africa's top research institute for the social sciences and the humanities (Human Sciences Research Council, 2021). HSRC funds multidisciplinary studies to solve social problems and inform sound policy decisions (ibid., 2021). The HSRC's efforts have significantly aided the nation's development. Afrobarometer is a pan-African research network that conducts objective surveys to evaluate public opinion on democracy, leadership, and economic conditions (Afrobarometer, 2021). Afrobarometer provides invaluable insights into the thoughts and opinions of people around Africa (Afrobarometer, 2021). These observations help shape debates over government policy and further the cause of representative democracy (Electoral Commission of South Africa, n.d: pp. 3 - 4). Some maintained conditional views owing to worries about individual abnormalities and vote rigging. Open voter registration and election protocols are needed to restore trust in the electoral system due to the corruption of other institutions (Electoral Commission of South Africa, n.d: pp. 3 - 4). The survey found complex youth voting patterns.
Figure 5 Survey Question: Are you registered to vote in South Africa? Source: October, 2023a
Most participants (68.6%) confirmed voter registration, while 31.4% did not (October, 2023a). Voters cited crucial national issues, a desire to shape the nation's future, and civic duty. However, other individuals were disinterested in politics and cynical about their vote. This shows that these issues must be addressed to increase young participation.
Interaction between social media and youth participation is essential.
Figure 6 Survey Question: Do you actively use social media platforms? Source: October, 2023a
South African youth's political knowledge and activism have grown thanks to social media. Most participants (74.5%) used social media regularly, citing WhatsApp, Instagram, and YouTube as important political information sources (ibid.: 2023a). Social media is crucial to political information distribution, yet respondents were concerned about disinformation (ibid.: 2023a). Credible sources and fact-checking were stressed to reduce misinformation. The perception of IEC content on social media differs from its creation.
Figure 7 Survey Question: Have you come across any content from the IEC specifically targeting young voters on social media? Source: October, 2023a
The effectiveness of social media marketing
The author's comprehensive content analysis of the IEC's social media operations in 2019 revealed new insights about audience engagement across several platforms. The survey found that the IEC publishes often on Facebook to encourage broad engagement (ibid.: 2023a). Influencers did not affect post-performance, showing that the IEC employed organic and influencer-generated content well (October 2023b). In the comments area, the IEC actively promotes public participation and addresses issues (ibid.: 2023b). They respond attentively to voter inquiries, misinformation concerns, and registration questions, demonstrating their dedication to participation. From January to May, the IEC's Xsê Facebook campaign had an average engagement rate of 0.014% (ibid.: 2023b). As mentioned possibly a dozen times, the most engaged social media post was released on May 3, 2019, before Election Day, with 4.59% engagement (ibid.: 2023b). The IEC didn’t do so well on Instagram in 2019, with an average engagement rate of 0.28% (ibid.: 2023b). Each post received very few likes, comments, and views, indicating a low audience interaction. Instagram had a lower engagement rate than Facebook, but the IEC still used it to build a presence and connect with users. IEC's Twitter engagement rating was 0.92%, indicating a better audience involvement than Instagram (ibid.: 2023b). Despite only seven videos produced in 2019, the IEC's YouTube interaction techniques have been successful if we were to measure by views. 2019's average engagement rate on YouTube was 1.99%, the highest at 12.18% (ibid.: 2023b). According to data, the IEC's YouTube material garnered substantial public attention and engagement despite its few followers.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The IEC's initiatives, which included participatory democracy concepts and the Four Web Campaigning Theory (FWCT) (2005), showed a range of triumphs and failures that shed light on the challenges of enlisting youth in political processes.
From an optimistic perspective, the IEC proved superior in certain strategic respects. Their audience size spiked because of how well they utilised social media channels like Twitter and YouTube. They were serious about encouraging interaction with youth, as seen by the amount of new followers they claimed in their reports. Tailored content production, notably the multimedia civic education provided via newspapers, television, and radio, garnered excellent reviews, reflecting the IEC's multidimensional approach to reaching varied audiences (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: p. 33).
The proliferation of social media as a critical information source has increased false information and misleading posts. The proliferation of disinformation constituted a burden in spreading correct election information and damaged faith in the democratic process. Corruption inside the country also heightened distrust among young voters, highlighting the necessity for clear communication and open voter registration processes to promote faith in the electoral system (Schneider et al., 2005: pp.3 - 4). The most severe setback was a 47% drop in voter registration among youths aged 18 to 19 (Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2019). Concerns were expressed concerning the efficacy of current outreach techniques in attracting the attention of the youth demographic as a result of this drop (Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2019). The seriousness of the problem was emphasised by the PMG’s insistence that this crucial data be included in the report submitted by the IEC to the Home Affairs Portfolio Committee (Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2019). While the IEC's implementation of web-based apps for remote registration improved, it did not solve the systemic problems that led to youth disengagement. There was a need for a holistic strategy to engage youth because the problem went beyond technology and included things like political illiteracy, indifference, and distrust in the democratic process (Schneider et al., 2005: pp.3 - 4). Although the IEC's digital efforts attracted much attention online, it wasn't easy to channel that energy into concrete community service. There appears to be a disconnect between online enthusiasm and offline engagement, as seen by a drop in registration numbers despite increased online activity.
There was no correlation between internet activity and increased voter registration or participation among youth (ibid.: pp.3 - 4). A more profound knowledge of the variables causing youth disengagement was necessary to close this chasm. Actions should include spreading the word online, providing opportunities for citizens to learn about and engage with politics, and working to increase faith in the democratic process. The IEC's projects revealed the nuanced nature of youth’s political consciousness and sense of civic duty. While many were enthusiastic about the IEC's work and enrolled without prompting, others showed less enthusiasm and voiced scepticism about the value of their participation (October, 2023a). These contrasting perspectives underscored the necessity for targeted strategies for specific subsets of the juvenile population. Understanding the subtle causes behind these diverse attitudes was vital to creating campaigns connecting various youth groups, stressing the significance of specialised and culturally sensitive outreach activities.
The FWCT Method of Analysis
Understanding the fundamental ideas of the Four Web Campaigning Theory (FWCT) is crucial before diving into the study. The focus of the FWCT, which was developed by Schneider and Foot in 2005, is on the revolutionary effect of the internet, mainly social media and other online platforms, on civic participation. According to the article, informing, involving, connecting, and mobilising are four of the most important uses of the Internet in political campaigns (Schneider et al., 2005: pp.3 - 4). Particularly pertinent in the context of the IEC's attempts to engage South Africa's youth, it highlights the crucial significance of digital platforms in reaching and mobilising different audiences. The objectives of the IEC are consistent with the focus on information sharing and user participation at FWCT. The IEC communicated vital electoral information using social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, from voter registration procedures to polling locations. This fits FWCT's emphasis on the internet's ability to disseminate information to the general public (ibid.: pp.3 - 4). The interactive feature of FWCT is also reflected in the real411.co.za platform, which encourages people to take part by reporting issues linked to disinformation (Electoral Commission of South Africa, 2020: p. 35 - 36). A truly interactive interaction between the IEC and the youth is a need, but the difficulty is in guaranteeing the integrity of the information presented.
FWCT underlines the internet's capacity to mobilise individuals and turn digital interactions into real-world civic action (ibid.: pp.3 - 4). The IEC used the video-sharing platform YouTube to target young voters with ads encouraging them to register and vote. The mobilisation part of FWCT is consistent with its focus on turning online excitement into real-world acts like voter registration, volunteering, and community engagement (ibid.: pp.3 - 4). Despite these initiatives, the youth population's fall in voter registration numbers underscores the problem of transforming online involvement into concrete political participation (ibid.: pp.3 - 4). The ability of FWCT to connect online and offline participation is crucial. According to their report, the IEC's social media initiatives were a huge success, but converting that success into higher voter registration and turnout took a lot of work to crack (ibid.: pp.3 - 4). The idea stresses the significance of unified approaches that bridge the gap between virtual and physical interactions. While the IEC's efforts to pique people's interest in digital platforms are admirable, they might use tweaking to facilitate a more natural progression from passive to active involvement. FWCT acknowledges that the internet helps build credibility and trust (ibid.: pp.3 - 4). This part of FWCT exemplifies the IEC's work to create real411.co.za and combat disinformation. However, more comprehensive tactics are needed to combat the ongoing problems of youth disinformation and election system scepticism. Involving the youth in the democratic process and ensuring they have access to correct information is crucial to fostering trust.
The IEC's interactive platforms are neither transparent nor unbiased, which is necessary for genuine participatory democracy despite their seeming openness. Becoming echo chambers, reinforcing existing prejudices rather than stimulating meaningful discourse. The trustworthiness of the IEC's interactive projects is harmed by the organisation's lack of solid processes to ensure neutral reviews. The IEC must create rigorous supervision measures to ensure engagement platforms are genuine avenues for citizen involvement and inspire confidence among participants and the general public.
Another major criticism is the disconnect between virtual and physical civic engagement. Even if the IEC's online efforts get people talking, channelling that enthusiasm into effective community service is challenging. There is no correlation between time spent chatting online and greater interest in politics or participation at the polls. The IEC's failure to bridge this gap puts into question the strategic usefulness of its digital efforts. The IEC must review its strategy for resolving this discrepancy, including the psychological and social elements driving online conduct and its translation into real-world activities. The IEC may turn digital excitement into considerable democratic involvement by investigating the causes and consequences of people's lack of engagement. The IEC's failure to adjust its tactics to the dynamic youth engagement landscape is the root of the problem. The traditional approaches used by the IEC could be more effective in today's world when people's attention spans are short and digital material permeates every aspect of life. The organisation's core issue is its unwillingness or inability to adopt novel, youth-centric tactics. The IEC must spend money on innovative communication strategies that attract youth with social media trends, interactive multimedia material, and gamification methods. The IEC risks becoming irrelevant in the ever-evolving digital world if it proactively aligns its programs with the dynamic nature of digital platforms.
Implications for Participatory Democracy
Given the previous downward trends, the IEC's primary objective was to increase voter registration and turnout among the youth. While the IEC has made strides in expanding its social media reach and digital presence, deeper problems undermine both achievements. The IEC's methodology is questioned since, despite increased social media followers and engagements from previous years, they have. The fall in registration among individuals aged 18 and 19 for the 2019 elections reveals an apparent weakness in the IEC's policies, exposing its incapacity to resonate with the youth. The IEC's failure to instil a feeling of actual political agency in the younger generation is a severe flaw with far-reaching consequences for participatory democracy. Active participation, conversation, and concrete results are necessary for a democratic and participatory society ((Zittel, 2007: p. 19). While the IEC's programs may give the impression of participation, they do nothing to equip the youth to make meaningful contributions to the democratic process. The IEC's efforts might backfire and lead to a generation of disengaged and uninformed voters, further weakening the basis of democratic participation.
In addition, while the IEC is taking steps to address the problem of disinformation, they need to go further to dismantle the complex network of lies that permeates online communities. While relying on user-generated content is a positive development, more is required to create a solid, evidence-based information ecosystem. The IEC has squandered an excellent chance to position itself as a fortress against digital disinformation in an era when it may skew public opinion and affect election results. There are severe repercussions for representative democracy if misleading narratives deceive voters and they cannot make well-informed choices (Zittel, 2007: p. 19). Moreover, despite their digital focus, the IEC's programs could be more innovative and effective in harnessing the full potential of digital platforms. While using social media is a positive beginning, more might be done to maximise the effectiveness of their campaigns. Because they've grown up in an era of fast technological progress, today's youth want cutting-edge, immersive entertainment. By failing to adapt to these growing expectations, the IEC risks alienating the audience they wish to engage, maintaining the distance between democratic institutions and the digital-savvy youth.
In conclusion, the IEC's youth involvement efforts show several shortcomings that question the very foundation of participatory democracy when examined seriously. Youth participation in South Africa could be better due to a lack of concrete results, a weak reaction to disinformation, and a lack of digital innovation. The success of participatory democracy depends on the IEC rethinking its methods, opening itself up to new ideas, increasing the breadth of participation, and putting in place a rigorous system for verifying information. These game-changing adjustments are essential if the IEC succeeds in cultivating a new generation of engaged, well-informed, and passionate voters and ultimately ensuring the survival of South Africa's participatory democracy.
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