By Julian Dierkes
I was surprised that the election campaign for the June 29 election did not unfold on social media more. Yes, there was some activity, but I did not see any clever or comprehensive campaigns by candidates or parties, nor was there all that much action from voters.
Why Might One Expect a Social Media Election?
Data on social media usage is always a bit tricky and rarely up-to-date, but basic telephony and computer access data for Mongolia is available through the UN’s International Telecommunications’ Union, for example. In the ITU’s 2015 ICT Development Index, some of the data included suggests widespread use of mobiles that anyone who has travelled to or lives in Mongolia could certainly confirm. For example, for 100 Mongolians, there are 105 cell phone contracts. 29% of households have access to the internet, according to these statistics.
That confirms the more anecdotal impression of wide-spread use of mobiles, increasingly smartphones as well, and of computers. Mongolians also continue to be very active on social media. While Twitter has been very popular for some years, Facebook seems to have surpassed it recently.
Given the potential for multiplication of political messages via social media, I was expecting a very active election campaign online this year. I was looking for URLs and Facebook/Twitter/userids to be prominent in campaign materials, and for coordinated campaigns in social media via hashtags and the strategic sharing of posts.
My overall impression is that not nearly as many of these kind of activities happened as I was expecting.
MPs on Twitter
But, obviously, my impression is quite limited. It is based primarily on Twitter rather than Facebook. My children keep reminding me that “Twitter is for old people”. That’s why I use it, but many Mongolian politicians seem to agree with me in that. 41 members of the incoming State Great Khural are on Twitter. With a parliament of 76 members that’s not quite universal adoption, and not all of the 41 accounts I identified are particularly active, but still, it does seem that even if Twitter is less of the go-to social medium that it might have been some few years ago in Mongolia, it is still relevant.
Facebook and other Platforms
I have been told that Facebook discussions around the election were quite active. While I am on FB myself, I really don’t use it very much for professional purposes, in part because the search function does not seem to work well for such purposes, and because hashtagging or some other form of organization has never really taken off. I did not take a closer look at other rising social media like SnapChat. A search for the hashtag #Сонгууль2016 does produce a number of posts on Instagram, including many where voters have recorded their voting “receipt”, but not much in terms of a campaign that I can identify.
I was also quite surprised not to see more posting on the election night. GIFs were noticeably absent from Twitter as well, though I made a clumsy attempt at humour:
— Julian Dierkes (@jdierkes) June 29, 2016
From photos that others sent me, I could not spot a single billboard or campaign poster that listed a website or social media userid. It seems that the election law did not specifically prohibit such pointers to social media sites and channels.
See the small forest of election posters in the photo below. Not a single one seems to offer a link to social media or a website.
Political pizza boards in Nalaikh pic.twitter.com/jtHsq4xf3R
— Julian Dierkes (@jdierkes) June 28, 2016
Lack of Campaigning
I was surprised that neither parties nor candidates seem to develop strategic campaigns that focused on slogans, particular issues, or anything like that really. I did not see any strategic hashtags that would lend themselves to engage voters on specific topics, nor any attempts to use graphics to increase engagement. The parties in particular did not seem to see strategic value in coordinating any activities on social media.
Why, given Mongolians’ participation in social media?
First of all, Mongolian political operatives are not alone in not realizing the potential that social media hold for engagement of citizens. This is certainly a common theme for analyses of “digital diplomacy” efforts where the number of channels appears to be proliferating, but the messages are primarily intended for broadcast, rather than engagement.
Secondly, past campaigns in Mongolia have also not suggested strong coordination within parties to observers. One of the challenges remain that most candidates seem themselves as a campaign on to themselves. This was very obviously the case in the 2008 election where multiple members from the same party were competing in the same constituency, but even in 2012 with its portion of seat to be won by proportional representation, central party campaigns were limited. With the return to majoritarian voting in this election, perhaps the incentives have skewed away from party campaign efforts again.
Reporting on Campaign
While I didn’t see much use of social media by the parties, the media were more active this time and seemed better prepared for the election evening and the arrival of results as well.
Some media organizations clearly dedicated some resources to the production of graphics and dedicated websites, etc. Here’s an example of some of the visually-attractive, but also informative graphics that came out.
— GoGo (@newsGoGomn) June 30, 2016