Social media changes face of Papua New Guinea's elections | Pacific Beat

Social media changes face of Papua New Guinea's elections

Social media changes face of Papua New Guinea's elections

Updated 5 July 2012, 10:20 AEST

It's been called an historic election for PNG, for many reasons - and one of them is the use of social media.

Blogs, Facebook and Twitter are having an impact on the way Papua New Guineans involve themselves in the political process.

Presenter: Nasya Bahfen

Speaker: Emmanuel Narakobi administrator of the Masalai blog and SharpTalk facebook group


BAHFEN: Emmanuel Narakobi runs the popular Masalai blog and is one of the administrators of SharpTalk, a Facebook group where users discuss all things PNG election related.

NARAKOBI: The biggest one has been starting with the constitutional crisis, it … neatly correct, it was a very difficult one, even lawyers from PNG … couldn't really work out who was right. But went into all the other appointments in terms of police commissioners and judges.
BAHFEN: When they were talking about the constitutional crisis on avenues like SharpTalk, was the discussion heated or divisive? Like were there people who were very pro-Somare and pro-O'Neill?
NARAKOBI: No, no the general mood of the discussion was more towards them coming to a solution. Everyone was sort of tired of the politics in a sense, they just wanted to get on with nation building. And it actually resulted again through SharpTalk people organising and taking part in discussions that were being held by Transparency International and the church groups. And so they got involved in that discussion as well too, and releasing media statements and suddenly all saying that the public and the country wants a solution to be made.
BAHFEN: Another popular political blog in PNG is the Garamut. It's run by an anonymous blogger who goes by the name of Tarvuvur for now. He says the election results are featuring highly in discussions, as well as the problems people have had with voter registration and details.
TARVUVUR: One of the key issues that people are concerned about and they're using Facebook and Twitter and even the comments on my blog for example to vent their frustration, particularly over the past two weeks as we were heading into this election period, it's to do with the common roll. And how many of our voters, particularly those who have access to technology and social media haven't found the names of themselves or their families on the common roll, and hence they've suddenly had an access to a medium by which they can pronounce that fact to a wide audience. And as a result we've seen a lot of comments on Facebook.
BAHFEN: Both PNG bloggers I spoke to say the use of social media marks a change in the way people in PNG take part in political discussion. Here's the Masalai blog manager, Emmanuel Narakobi:
NARAKOBI: It's been huge, I'm the administrator on SharpTalk, a fairly active Facebook group among PNG users. We have probably about three to four-thousand users on that and then the constitutional crisis, the numbers jumped up to about six-thousand members.
BAHFEN: That's a lot.
NARAKOBI: Yeah exactly, we could directly see the amount of people that actively wanted to access information about what was going on and participate in discussions.
BAHFEN: Now in previous elections in PNG that hasn't happened right? This is something that's different and new I guess?
NARAKOBI: Yeah absolutely, it's been a great avenue for people to get information about what's happening, the background story on issues and things like that. So people aren't as isolated as before.
BAHFEN: That's something that Tarvuvur agrees with, while PNG media has always been quite free, he says social media has given the reactions and discussion of voters more of an immediacy.
TARVUVUR: Absolutely, we have seen that happened as we speak right now. In the past when we had previous elections we knew that there were problems with the common roll. Because of that access to social media and technology, it seems to have become amplified or the amount of complaints or issues being raised by people I think to some degree have always been there, but the provision of social media we now see those issues gaining prominence in terms of people talking about it. So traditional media have always reported stories about the election, their only problem is that they're so slow in terms of updating instantaneous information regards to what's going on live. But they're always a good 12 hours or 24 hours behind what's happened.
BAHFEN: But the engagement hasn't stuck to Facebook, as Emmanuel Narakobi describes, it's also spurred political action offline.
NARAKOBI: And I think one of the best examples was the parliament had advised the public that they possibly delay the elections, and this was before Easter weekend. And so over the whole Easter break on a weekend people … organising on Facebook to organise a protest march on Tuesday after Easter Monday. So just seeing the people putting in the effort into something like that on a public holiday was quite interesting.
BAHFEN: And do you think it's much of a generational shift perhaps? Because usually the people who use social media are young people, so do you think perhaps we're seeing more young people in Papua New Guinea getting involved with the political process through social media?
NARAKOBI: Yes definitely, definitely. The majority of users on Facebook in PNG are 25 and under or around 35 and under. So it is definitely a younger population that's getting involved with social media.

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