Four Twitter lessons for politicians ahead of the 2019 elections

14 January 2019 - 06:18 By Ntokozo Miya
Politicians must be cautious if they plan to use social media platforms to attract voters ahead of the elections in May 2019.
Politicians must be cautious if they plan to use social media platforms to attract voters ahead of the elections in May 2019.
Image: iStock Images

Social media is an important electioneering tool and politicians should tread carefully where the online community is concerned.

The following articles are examples of how one tweet can go south faster than a voter can write “X” on a ballot paper, and there are lessons to be drawn from these politicians’ Twitter experiences.

Lesson 1 - Twitter backlash is not a good look

A single offensive post can alienate hundreds of voters in a matter of seconds. The impact is even greater if politicians  find themselves on the wrong side of people with a huge following.

It’s not a good look for politicians to feature on Twitter trend lists for the wrong reasons.

This year, some politicians have been schooled in this regard after they tweeted statements better left unsaid.

Lesson 2 - “Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones”

Politicians should not be excessively critical of the opposition, especially on issues where their own political organisations need to improve. It’s that simple.

Twitter will chew and spit out anyone guilty of that transgression.

Tourism minister Derek Hanekom is a perfect example for this lesson. 

He recently singled out the DA-led Johannesburg municipality for being dirty. Hanekom seemed to forget that there are many municipalities led by the ruling party that are in equally appalling states, if not worse. 

Lesson 3 - Ignorance is frowned upon on social media

Voters are easily put off by politicians who are not in touch with the challenges people face, because essentially a politician who does not recognise and acknowledge a problem cannot be expected to contribute to its solution. 

When finance minister Tito Mboweni recently tweeted about how dirty Johannesburg was, Twitter was surprised that this came as a shock to the minister, considering the city has looked that way for years.

Lesson 4 - Solution-driven debate vs opportunistic mud-slinging 

As much as many people enjoy the occasional Twitter spat, they are generally repulsed when politicians engage in verbal attacks, especially if the debate involves needless name-calling and insults.

Voters prefer politicians whose online interactions are progressive and solution-driven.