“Social Media Crucial to Liberia’s Elections” -Former ECOWAS Amb Tells Liberians

MONROVIA : The immediate former ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia, Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo has said the rise of the use of social media in Liberia is crucial to the entire electoral process leading to the holding of the October 10, 2023 general elections which could be harnessed to either contribute to the success or undermine the anticipated peace the elections are expected to characterize and called on proper mechanism to be put in place to ensure that the platform does not lead to disrupt the democratic process.

Speaking through a virtual platform from Abuja, Nigeria, Ambassador Ajisomo who is the lead facilitator of a two day workshop on CSOs Capacity Building and Reinforcing Youth Declaration for Peace Through the Use of Responsible Social Media to Promote Social Cohesion and Community Dialogue in Liberia held at the Boulevard Palace Hotel July 11-12, 2023, said the October Presidential and General elections is very crucial and strategic as it marks Liberia’s consolidation of multiparty democracy and that in recent times, the role of social media in the electioneering processes has caught the attention of stakeholders both within and outside the country.

“Social media is increasingly penetrating the Liberia landscape, particularly in the communication, entertainment, political and education sectors. Is also becoming a choice channel of communication between electorates and political stakeholders;

“Statistically, there are reportedly 1. 80 million internet users in Liberia, accounting for 33.6 per cent of the total population as of January 2023 (DataReportal, 2023). Interestingly, as of June 2023, 868, 700 Liberians had accounts on Facebook, making it the most popular social media platform. This is followed by Instagram with 102, 200 accounts, Messenger with 839, 400 accounts and LinkedIn with 145, 100 accounts. This clearly illustrates the exponential increase in the use of social media in Liberia according to (Napoleon Incorporated 2023)”, he said

He said the positive use of social media especially by women aspirants is worthy of note and very laudable, adding that it is attributable to several initiatives, including the recent UN Women’s effort to train twenty-five aspiring female politicians on social media and digital marketing skills in collaboration with Orange Digital Center in April 2023 (UN Women, 2023);

Ambassador Ajisomo said though many see social media as a tool to propagate division, especially in the context of elections, some best practices for combating hate speeches and disinformation were taught during the interactive training session that took place on Day 1 by Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) digital experts. He said similarly, the UNDP launched in May 2023, an app called iVerify, an automated fact-checking tool under the Liberia Electoral Support Project and managed by Local Voices Liberia (LVL), a network of Journalists based in Monrovia.

“The iVerify app helps in fact-checking false rumors surrounding Liberia’s voting system. It also assists Liberia media houses to improve information and news reporting by verifying information and news reporting before publishing them on social media”, he said.

He said as part of a follow-up to the two days training programme, HD will continue to partner with all stakeholders on Social media and facilitate the crafting of appropriate Code of Conduct for responsible use of Social media as well as the setting up of an inclusive Monitoring body that will implement the code of conduct in compliance with Liberia’s relevant laws and international best practice.

Ambassador Ajisomo who was the lead facilitator of some activities of HD in Liberia in the past said the institution has developed strong competence and rich experience in providing training on responsible use of social media through identifying and analyzing social media content on various platforms, managing and monitoring risks to conflict as well as setting up monitoring body, including, developing methodology, data collection, using social media tools and designing appropriate social media agreements and code of conduct with relevant stakeholders. He said this has been proven and tested in many countries, including during the recent electoral processes in Thailand and in Nigeria;

“Let me at this juncture commend our digital HD trainers from Geneva, Nigeria, Thailand, Bosnia -Herzegovina for the tailored –made and contextualized social media training that they provided yesterday for Liberian participants; The break-out sessions into four groups created better understanding of the positive and negative roles of social media as well as confidence building on how to address problematic online behaviour and social media risks such as disinformation, misinformation, hate speeches, incitement to violence, false narratives,  Let me congratulate all the participants that took part in the training  as well as express HD’s appreciation to all our Partners in Liberia for  their contributions to the success of the two days training workshop”, he said

Speaking further he said HD is particularly pleased that NEC has developed a Social Media policy that provides a general approach for effective use of various social media channels namely, Facebook, Twitter, Meta, Tiktok, Google, Instagram, Plus, Linkedin, Pinterest,  Youtube and new platform known as Thread.

“Through these platforms, NEC has been able to inform Liberian citizens active on Facebook and Twitter on electoral processes such as the accreditation of political party agents, media, and Observers for the October 10 elections from June 10 to September 11, 2023, candidate nominations from June 14 to July 14th, 2023, amongst others.

“This information is useful in keeping electorates abreast of election processes and also foster public accountability and is particularly effective in reaching the youth demographics. What remains is to have an effective and independent social media monitoring body that maintain good working relationships with all stakeholders, including network platforms providers”, he said

In similar vein, he said HD will also like to commend the Government of Liberia and all local and International stakeholders, especially the UN and ECOWAS for the concerted efforts that they deployed for facilitating the recent signing of the Revised Farmington River Declaration by 22 Registered Political Parties and their candidates, committing them to non-violence and peaceful conduct and the subsequent setting up of a Framework of implementation of the Declaration. “This will consolidate the efforts of HD digital team in facilitating the setting up of a social media monitoring body with local stakeholders’ ‘, he said.

Meanwhile, earlier during the program, HD Country Project Manager, Mr. Emmanuel Nyuma Bawoh said the overall objectives of the two-day event was to reduce the risks of violent conflict by consolidating local, regional and national reconciliation processes and frameworks that can deliver peace dividends in the most conflict prone counties in Liberia.

He also said the training sought to address some of the unresolved issues that continue to affect peace and stability in Liberia. He stated further that in part, some of these conflicting issues are not unconnected to the national problems that emanate from the use and misuse of social media.

“As a follow up to the youth declaration for sustaining peace and social cohesion that was signed on March 22, 2023, the training is initiated to reinforce a Peace Pledge to identify potential journalists, CSOs, influencers, and bloggers become the champions of peace and social cohesion to lead engagements with relevant stakeholders in raising awareness on sustaining peace and social cohesion”, he said.

In his concluding statement, Bawoh stated that HD will continue to engage relevant actors and seek further in collaboration with Liberia Peacebuilding Office, Independent National Commission for Human Rights and the UN to support  the peace pledge and early warning system.

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