Written by Laila Bashar Al-Kloub translated by Ghassan Makarem
On 15 August 2017, Jordanians participated in the first decentralized elections along with municipal elections. The occasion was considered a momentous political transformation, following calls by young people and civil society to distribute political and economic pressure equally among governorates instead of being concentrated in the capital. It also allowed young people over 25 to run as candidates for the very first time.
The streets were filled with banners. However, this article will focus on another medium which had a great impact on electoral publicity: Facebook.
Four million Jordanians have Facebook accounts, meaning 66% of the population, based on 2018 statistics.1
The country is also ranked first in the proportion of people using social media platforms compared to all internet users in 2016.2
Electoral influencers, such as the Independent Elections Committee, civil bodies and candidates utilized the most famous platform in Jordan to reach out to their most relevant target group: young people.
This paper will focus on electoral campaigns to understand how their use of the platform impacted youth participation, namely the age group between 18 and 30 years old, as defined by the UN, who make up 70% of the population of Jordan.3
Facebook and youth participation in Jordan
Young people in Jordan demonstrated their political awareness on various occasions. However, political transformations in the Arab world following the social media revolution were very different than their precedents.
These platforms were used by young people to organize protests and express their opinions, which led to the beginning of its utilization as a platform for electoral publicity, which can reach the audience anywhere, an option that was lacking in previous elections, barring the 2016 parliamentary elections.4
Youth participation in the elections reached 31%, meaning 431,078 out of 1,390,364 voters between 17 and 30 years old.
The percentage is important since it represents the biggest segment of society and could provide a wider understanding of Facebook as a platform to be used for electoral publicity, at a symbolic cost and with wide appeal. Linked with the need for their empowerment and encouragement for political participation, it can be concluded that the tool is useful and its various features allow more professional and interactive communication with the target group.
Facebook and local elections candidates
Candidates used Facebook in a significant manner in their various districts. They used the platform's various features, such as public pages or personal accounts. Some limited their participation to sharing text and images; others went further, responding to questions and discussing them, using the live streaming feature.
Candidate Mai Abu Idad,5 member of Irbid Governorate Council, believed that social media brought her closer to people, especially through the high number of followers and friends on her personal account. "It is not easy to go to every home," she says. The platform helped young people, through solidarity actions from various youth bodies, sharing each other's posts to reach more people.
Abu Idad, used text and images, since "we see more than we read," as she described it. She broadcasted live seven times, almost once a week since the beginning of the campaign, to discuss the electoral law with her followers and inform the people about it. She also used her friends' pages, carrying out and sharing short live discussions about the elections, young people, and their participation.
Mai believes that Facebook had a very positive impact on her electoral campaign, making it easier to share information. "I don't have to always be around for them to see me. Communicating on Facebook was easy and close to everyone," she explained.
Awwad Al-Dhaitham,6 member of the decentralized council in Al-Zarqa city, was one of the few candidates not to use Facebook during the elections. He cited his old age and his lack of understanding of the internet in general as reasons behind this decision. His victory, as he saw it, was due to people coming to him and not the opposite. Al-Dhaitham believes he has a solid constituency, since "those who respect people, will be respected back."
Arwa Al-Jarihie,7 the youngest council member in Jordan, used Facebook extensively. Her campaign only cost 1000 Jordian Dinars (JD). She focused on writing posts and sharing pictures and her electoral programme on Facebook, which has the widest reach, enabling her to acquire a high number of followers and be considered as an example for young Jordanians, after being elected to the local council by utilizing the platform.
|Candidate name||Governate||Region||No. of followers||No. of votes|
|Mai Abu Idad||Irbid||North||121838||13049|
|Awwad Al-Dhaitham||Al- Zarqa||Center||Not available||103010|
* Both personal and public pages
Impact of Facebook on youth participation in local elections
To know the opinion of young people, a questionnaire13 was prepared with detailed questions and answered by 197 young men and women between 18 and 30, with a 6.9% confidence interval and 95% confidence level.14
Main Question Results
68% of young people are interested in politics, which is high, with 78% active on Facebook. 59% of those considering themselves active on Facebook followed candidates' and lists' pages. 58.2% of those considering themselves active on Facebook voted in the elections.
Despite this interest, those actively supporting a list or candidate did not exceed 25%, which is a clear indicator of low turnout as the official rate of participation in the elections reached only 31%.
Note: Percentage of questionnaire respondents, compared to 31% official turnout.
More than half believed that following the platform did not impact their decision in local elections in any manner. However, more than 65% believe that using the platform for electoral publicity by candidates and lists was useful.
Local elections 2017 vs. parliamentary elections 2018
Despite the importance of the first local elections, youth participation was low, although it took place only one year before the parliamentary elections.
A similar questionnaire15 was used for the 2018 parliamentary elections. Youth participation wavered between 50 and 55%. Between 66 and 70% were impacted by following the electoral campaigns on Facebook. Although 51.8% of young people said that Facebook had no impact on their decision, 68.5% saw that its use in campaigns was useful.
The results are close to this study's finding, as most believe that Facebook is useful in electoral campaigning, even if they did not believe it had a direct impact on their own decisions to participate.
Youth participation dropped by around 20%16 between participating in local elections and parliamentary elections, which is very high and points to particularly low youth participation.
However 74% considered themselves active on Facebook, which makes it an important tool for electoral publicity, as around 65 to 70% consider it to be useful.
46% believe that following the platform impacted their decision in local elections, compared to 46.4% to 48.2%17 who believed it impacted their decision in parliamentary elections. This demonstrates the emergence of a new and available tool that should not be ignored. It should be studied to develop other theories and tools related to its use. It could encourage youth to participate in politics, as the information will reach them in a complete manner and they will feel that they were an important part of its choice and capable of interacting with it.
Layla Bashar Al-Kloub is a Jordanian program producer . She holds a master's degree in journalism and new media from the Jordan Media Institute and a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Jordan.
Al-Kloub has worked as a freelance journalist in several Arab and foreign websites, including The Globe Post and Al Jazeera English. She has been active in several areas, the most important of which is debating as she leads the Al-Salt Dialogue and Debate Club since 2015 and awaits the publication of her first novel, by Austin Macauley Publishers next year.
Al-Kloub took part in several youth projects in Jordan and abroad, including the Young Arab Media Leaders Program in the United Arab Emirates, the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change in Austria and in Germany Pluralism, Religion and Politics projects in the Arab World and Europe.
She received several awards and scholarships, including the award of the Middle East Studies Center |in 2017 for her research on "Facebook and Youth Political Participation in the 18th Jordanian Parliamentary Elections, Jordan 2016” and the 5th place in Swalef award for satirical articles 2017.
4 Independent election commission, Amman, Jordan 11/7/2018
5 Candidate Mai Abu Idad, member of Irbid Governorate Council, Jordan 26/7/2018
6Awwad Al-Dhaitham, member of the decentralized council in Al-Zarqa city, Jordan 7/8/2018
7Arwa Al-Jarihie, member of Al-Aqaba Governate Council, 8/8/2018
13 Role of Facebook in Youth Participation in Local Elections in Jordan 2017 http://bit.ly/2JTcmtF
14 Survey System, http://bit.ly/2vms8nu , 7/8/2018
15 Role of Facebook in Youth Participation in Parliamentary Elections in Jordan 2016
16Independent election commission, Amman, Jordan 11/7/2018
17Role of Facebook in Youth Participation in Parliamentary Elections in Jordan 2016
Al-Kloub, Laila, "Role of Facebook in Youth Participation in Jordan's 18th Parliamentary elections 2016," Jordanian Media Institute, 2016.
Independent Election Commission, Amman, 11/7/2018
Independent Election Commission, Governorate councils elections results, 7/8/2018: http://bit.ly/2OReMbc
Mai Abu Idad, member of Irbid Governorate Council, 26/7/2018
Awwad al-Dhaitham, member of Zarqa governorate council, 7/8/2018
Arwa al-Jarhie, member of al-Aqaba governorate council, 8/8/2018
al-Rai Newspaper, "4 million Facebook users in Jordan: 66% of the population", 6/3/2018 (in Arabic): http://bit.ly/2vFDEtz
al-Ghad Newspaper, "Jordan is ranked first globally in using social media networks," 20/4/2016: http://bit.ly/2KCIyx2
United Nations, "Fact Sheet on Jordan": http://bit.ly/2i6mnFy
Facebook, Mai Abu Idad's personal page, 7/8/2018: http://bit.ly/2AOyOQB
Facebook, Arwa al-Jarhie personal page, 8/8/2018: http://bit.ly/2KFs0nR
"Role of Facebook in Youth participation in local elections in Jordan 2017," http://bit.ly/2JTcmtF
Survey System, http://bit.ly/2vms8nu , 7/8/2018