Digital Influence In Politics Webinar Report
Date: November 18 2023
Topic: Empowering Youth In The Political Process: From Elections To Civic Engagement
Mimi Kay — Founder, Hey Girl Foundation/PR Consultant
Reginald Boateng Acheisu — Youth Activist
Emmanuel Sarpong — POP Culture Journalist/TV
Chris Atadika — Activist/Political Marketing Strategies
Austine Woode — Broadcaster
Ewura Adams Karim — Social Entrepreneur
Joshua Anoumou Agbenu — Policy Researcher
General elections will be held in Ghana on December 7 2024, to elect the president and members of Parliament. YEWGlobal, an organisation that empowers youth, took it upon itself to create an environment where young people could constructively share opinions, perspectives, and knowledge on the upcoming elections, as many Ghanaian youths are first-time voters. During elections, young people or first-time voters are usually targeted by political actors due to their vulnerability and exclusion in economic, social, and political decisions.
In 2020, Ghana's youth voter population (according to the Electoral Commission) consisted of 55.1% of the total voter population, an indication of the need to build their capacity to engage and participate in democratic processes effectively. The ages of first-time voters range from 18-21 years. These young individuals may be misinformed, inexperienced or new to the political arena, hence the importance of informing them on the processes of elections. For political systems to be truly representative, all parts of the society must be included. When young people are disenfranchised or disengaged from political processes, a significant portion of the population has little or no voice or influence in decisions that affect group members' lives.
A key consequence is the undermining of political systems' representativeness. To make a difference in the longer term, young people must be engaged in formal political processes and have a say in formulating today's and tomorrow's politics. Inclusive political participation is not only a fundamental political and democratic right but also crucial to building stable and peaceful societies and developing policies that respond to the specific needs of younger generations. For young people to be adequately represented in political institutions, processes, and decision-making in elections, they must know their rights and be given the necessary knowledge and capacity to participate in meaningful ways at all levels.
The YEWGlobal Projects Webinar had over 120 registered applicants, mostly from the Greater Accra Region, Ashanti Region, London, and Lagos. The majority of the applicants were between the ages of 24 - 30 and were not first-time voters. These statistics indicate that young people who have already voted at least once in their lifetime are interested in still getting empowered and educated on election processes. It also proves that Regions in Ghana with high levels of internet penetration are most likely to hear about webinars online via multiple platforms and participate in them to inform them about election processes.
Now comes a more worrying update indicating that there is work to be done to reach more young people in other regions who might not have access to a smart device, the internet, and, most importantly, quality education on the Democratic System of governance. Youth and civil society organisations must directly empower grassroots in our communities with appropriate information to avoid the influence of vote-buying.
YEWGlobal, in its quest to educate young people about the use of digital platforms in political discussions, had an insightful session involving key speakers to share their views on the topic, empowering youth in the political process from elections to civic engagement. Esteemed personalities, including Emmanuel Sarpong, Chris Atadeka, Ewura Adams Karim, Joshua Agbenu, Mimi Kay, Reginald Boateng Acheisu and Austine Woode, graced the virtual stage, sharing their expertise on the intersection of youth and politics, the influential role of digital platforms in political actions, and the broader scope of civic engagements.
A critical facet of the discussion illuminated the indispensable role of social media in motivating individuals towards various causes; it also addressed the darker side, the role of social media in political polarization. In this era, the content young people encounter on these platforms holds the potential to inspire action against inequalities or inadvertently promote them. The illustrative example of the "Occupy Julorbi House" campaign underscored how a social media movement could burgeon, demanding accountability and fairness within Ghana.
The discourse expanded to explore the intricate balance maintained by governmental agencies, such as the Electoral Commission, in navigating the delicate equilibrium between the imperative for free expression to prevent the dissemination of false information. The role of these agencies in upholding the integrity of information dissemination in the political realm emerged as a pivotal consideration. The following report provides an overview of the key insights and takeaways from the webinar.
Austine Woode, a Broadcaster, shared his view about how media involvement in politics has helped and progressed over the years. He stated the improvement in the processes of Ghana's elections from 1992 to 2001 and how the media are currently coming through during elections. One aspect of the conversation that was mentioned during his brilliant breakdown of historical activities within the political scene in Ghana was the use of the media by some politicians to transmit propaganda information and the need for young people to be well-informed and educated on subject matters to avoid political misinformation, especially during this digital age.
Chris Atadika, an Activist/Political Strategist, shared an insight into how various social media platforms operate and how they can be used. He explained the dynamics of different social media platforms, such as Twitter being a liberal environment and Facebook being a more conservative platform. In a fantastic presentation that can be found below, Chris elaborated on another layer of the conversation on how digital influence in politics could be harnessed for positive purposes. The discussion spotlighted avenues for leveraging digital platforms to increase voter turnout and promote civic engagement, thereby channelling the immense potential of the digital sphere towards constructive societal outcomes.
Joshua Agbenu, a Policy Researcher, highlighted the importance of critical thinking in engaging with the political sphere and how it helps young people to evaluate and argue effectively. Young people have exhibited some level of intelligence in the political space through their passion for wanting to be involved in decision-making processes. He emphatically stated that if we want young people to have social media literacy, we should include critical thinking at all levels of our educational systems. This will empower young children from an early stage to critically involve themselves in political discussions and social and current affairs. This new introduction to our educational system will help young people argue, evaluate, and know how to engage in political discourse.
Adams Karim, a Social Entrepreneur, talked about how education and industry training can create an enabling environment for young people to engage in politics. He recommended combining learning with community engagement, such as apprenticeships, internships, and community services to engage in civic education. Young people should take up internships and community services to engage in civic education by helping them build their political skills, increasing the number of young people in politics.
Moving on to the second phase of the discussion, specific questions were asked by the moderator to the speakers to educate the audience.
Q. Chris Atadika: How can implementing interactive digital platforms in civic education contribute to a measurable rise in political awareness and participation among young people?
Chris tackled this question using a research study by Stephen & Nwogwugwu (2022). Giving his perspective using the study, he mentioned the fact that people use their platforms for dialogues on political leadership and governance. He stated it is a way of getting many young people involved in political issues. He continued by elaborating that the quality of information from the media and exposure contributes to youth political knowledge and interest, subsequently influencing their participation.
He explained further by saying when the young have access to quality information from the media or experts who speak on current and political affairs, involving the youth and grabbing their attention will be much easier to resonate with them rather than using the platform for propaganda or fake news. He further explained that beyond traditional media, it is encouraging for policymakers or people interested in civic engagement to deploy online strategies for more conducive communication from the youth.
Chris Atadika shared some points on Understanding how civic education can drive political awareness using a study he conducted about a recent protest in Ghana. The purpose of the case study is to understand the transition from the online behaviour of young people during protests to an offline protest. He recommends these tactics to people who lead civic engagement online:
Using two protests (#FixTheCountry and #OccupyJulorbiHouse) as his case studies, Chris identifies solutions to transition from online to offline protests through virtual civic engagement and activism in Africa.
Q. Emmanuel Sarpong: What is the ideology behind the Electoral Commission's intention to allow new voters to register before the 2024 election? Is there any effect on the young Ghanaian?
Emmanuel shared his perspective on the Electoral Commission's intention to allow new voters to register before the 2024 election and its effect on young Ghanaians. He suggested door-to-door signups to aid faster registration processes and advised young people to know the reasons for conducting a register for clarity purposes. He further stated that we should all see the effectiveness and efficiencies of the registration process. One of the comments he passed regarding installing adequate systems in place to store data to facilitate the allocation of information on citizens was also mentioned and generated some conversations.
Q. Austine Woode: Are there statistically significant differences in voter turnout based on educational attainment, particularly concerning exposure to online political content?
Austine Woode said the voter turnout in the 2020 elections will be a significant example to answer his question. Using the 71.3% internet penetration, Internet penetration in Ghana is minimal in areas where formal education is minimal. Looking at the voter turnout in the 2020 elections, the vote buying in regions like the Upper East, Upper West, Northern, etc, was significantly higher due to their lack of access to the internet and quality information.
However, in areas where internet penetration and formal education were high, the vote buying was low because access to formal education helped make constructive decisions. Internet penetration in regions like the Northern part where poverty is high, according to the UNDP report, USAID, and Ghana Statistical Report, using their lack of information to influence their political decisions will be easier to attain. Political penetration is directly proportional to where vote turnout was high. This could be linked to vote buying, explaining that formal education is negligible and vote-buying becomes higher in such areas.
Austine shared an insight using statistics from the 2020 elections in Ghana to back his claim. He started vote buying in the Upper East reached 17.3%, Savanna at 15.1%, North East at 19.7%, Northern at 15.8%, Oti-24.2%, Upper West at 23.4%, and Central at 15.5%. The vote buying in Regions like Greater Accra was 7.1%, Ashanti-7.7%, and Eastern-6.1%, respectively. Now, he shared his opinion based on the statistics of the high rate of vote buying in these regions where there is a minimum education and a nominal internet penetration, lack of access to news and online content that could help them make informed decisions.
Unfortunately, people in the political cycle use that as an advantage to influence the political pattern of citizens, which has been proven dangerous to our democracy. Austine concluded by stating that if we can move from the social media conversation and involve the information service department to share online content and educational materials on what is happening in our political space, there would be more people being educated subsequently, being more effective than having a minimal number having access to digital outlets.
Q. Ewura: Can we use research to demonstrate youth empowerment programs?
Karim Adams gave points on using research data to illustrate youth empowerment programs, including evaluating data registration, studying voting behaviour, tracking young people's advocacy in political space, and using statistics to measure their political knowledge and skills of youth.
Q. How do we ensure that young people are taught their right to be citizens?
Emmanuel: Media literacy should be promoted to identify misinformation, contributing to having a working democracy in which young people can have a rational way of thinking.
Austine Woode: There should be the need to fight misinformation and disinformation. Learned people should produce safe information and disassociate from misinforming people in politics. (They think misinforming people can help them gain political power). But that is a threat to our Democracy. The only time one uses misinformation as a tool to influence the vote patterns of its citizens is when they do not have structured policies, empowering agendas, and solid advocacy to deliver to the citizens.
The speakers emphasised the need for media literacy, critical thinking, civic education, and youth engagement in public discourse using social media. They also stressed the importance of avoiding misinformation and sharing safe information, knowing constitutional rights, engaging with our local governments, and encouraging civic education at the basic level.
Communication with grassroots in languages that they understand is very important in communicating information for a better understanding of the subject matter. Many of our citizens are dissociated from current and political affairs due to the lack of understanding of what is being said. This gives room for misinterpretation of information, subsequently creating more biased partisan politics.
The Q&A section was then open for participants to interact with the speakers. One question that generated a lot of conversation was whether Democracy as a system of governance was flawed or its processes needed to be reevaluated. Many answers were given, and it was concluded that Democracy is a great system of governance. However, the processes have been corrupted with the glamorisation of politics due to the intense cost of campaigning, the lack of transparency, the lack of accountability, and the lack of information and education on the system itself creating mediocre systematic behaviours from both the government and citizens through bias partisan politics ran by emotions and not a critical evaluation of policies being presented as they do not know any better.
These key takeaways were highlighted during the session and can be used for future reference:
Ensuring critical thinking at all levels of education.
Constante communication with local governments
Encouraging Civic education at the basic level
Youth Engagement in public discourse using Social media
Using Social media effectively and intelligently
Knowing your constitutional right as a Ghanaian Youth
Sharing of safe information and avoiding misinformation
The webinar scrutinised the notable differences in political engagement among voters across various educational levels, particularly in the context of online participation. Understanding the diverse ways in which individuals with different educational backgrounds interact with and contribute to the political discourse emerged as a key point of analysis. It provided practical strategies for engaging and empowering young people to become active citizens. The speakers highlighted the need for youth participation in the political process and emphasised the importance of media literacy, critical thinking, and civic education. The insights and takeaways from the session can benefit other countries in empowering their youth in the political process.
Designating youth in the political process is crucial for the future of our society. From elections to civic engagement, it's paramount to give young people the tools and resources needed to make their voices heard. By educating and informing them on the political process, encouraging them to vote, and fostering a culture of civic responsibility, we can entrust the next generation to make a positive impact in our communities and our world.
In essence, the YEWGlobal Projects webinar served as an intellectual crucible, wherein esteemed speakers dissected the intricate interplay between youth, politics, and the omnipresent influence of the digital realm, underscoring the need for informed and discerning civic participation among the younger generation.
Thank you for reading and participating in the YEWGlobal Projects Webinar on Digital Influence In Politics; Empowering The Youth In Political Processes, From Elections to Civic Engagement.
Please do not hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any additional questions for our speakers.