AMMAN — Representatives of national tickets competing in this Wednesday’s parliamentary elections believe social media enables them to reach out to a wider audience at no cost, but experts said these tools would only pay dividends on election day if used intelligently.
“Social media networks such as Facebook made our work much easier in communicating with people and reaching out to them,” Zeid Majali, from the Justice and Development List, told The Jordan Times on Sunday.
“We resorted to Facebook because we were able to promote our ticket for free,” Majali said, adding that the network particularly helped the list reach out to young voters who do not read newspapers.
By Sunday, there were 2.579 million Facebook users in Jordan, according to www.checkfacebook.com. Of the total, 58.1 per cent are male and 41.2 per cent, or over one million users, are between 18 and 24 years old.
There are also about 60,000 Twitter users in Jordan, according to social media experts.
National ticket candidates are competing nationwide for 27 seats out of a total of 150 Lower House seats.
The Elections Law gives each voter two votes: one for a national ticket and another for a candidate in the local constituency.
Haitham Abbadi, a candidate from the Sawt Al Watan (voice of the nation) List, said his ticket was using social media tools for the same reasons as Majali’s.
“Using Facebook is faster, cheaper and more effective than traditional media,” he said.
“Facebook is a major tool for us, especially as the majority of our 12-member list are holders of PhDs in information technology.”
Saed Al Blewi, representing Al Fajr (the dawn) List, said that he and his running mates had created a Facebook page a year ago, before the Elections Law was endorsed, as an exploratory tool to decide whether to run.
“After seeing the interaction with young people on our Facebook page and their enthusiasm to vote for us, we decided to run. We have great expectations and I do not think I would have run without seeing this support,” Blewi noted.
Experts, however, said it was too early to measure the impact of social media on the polls and warned that just because a candidate or party has the most Facebook fans does not necessarily mean they will get the most votes on election day.
“It is not about how many fans one list or another has. Candidates should not only use social media sites for promoting themselves; they should engage in serious discussions with people on major issues and challenges facing the country and interact with them,” Abed Shamlawi, CEO of the ICT Association of Jordan, told the Jordan Times on Sunday.
“Using social media such as Facebook is certainly a great free tool for candidates to reach out to a larger audience, but they need to use these tools intelligently. If candidates take their fans on Facebook pages seriously, address their concerns and questions, and constantly update their content, then the possibility that their fans will take them seriously and vote for them grows,” said Shamlawi.
“Social media has played a major role in the elections in the US,” he noted.
Jawad Abbassi, founder and general manager of the Arab Advisers Group, also said social media was a great asset for candidates in Jordan.
“Some candidates running in these elections had never been heard of at all, but when they started to post videos and share their views on Facebook and other channels they became very popular,” Abbassi added, without giving examples.
“If candidates use social media properly, they will not need to spend any more money on their campaigns, because if their videos and comments go viral on the web, people themselves will promote them,” he added.
Another social media expert, who asked not to be named, was more sceptical about the effectiveness of social media as a campaign tool.
“Social media is great, but I do not think it can greatly affect voter turnout,” the expert said.
“Maybe using social media will encourage a few people to go to the polls, especially the younger generation, but family ties and connections in Jordan are still stronger than social media in encouraging people to vote. It will take a while before social networking sites affect voter turnout,” he added.