Social Media Use and Participatory Politics among Students in Universities in Nairobi

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This study assesses the use of social media for political purposes in Kenya. It departs from the idea that social media offer ‗new‘ platforms for communication, participation and inclusion, and political engagement. It contends that the youth in universities are increasingly appropriating and utilising social media as a way of engaging with the political leadership in Kenya although the levels of use, and political efficacy is determined by individual levels of use. Its main objective was to investigate the political use of social media by students in universities in Nairobi. Specifically, it sought to: assess the factors informing social media use; to determine modalities of social media use for political purposes; and determine the effects of political use of social media by students in universities in Nairobi. Using data collected from a sample of 385 students mainly from four public and private universities in Nairobi, key informant interviews with experts and political actors and visual analysis of social media pages that are politically related, this research reveals that while social media has become an important source of information and platform for political engagement, its efficacy depends on modalities of individual use. In other words, mere access and use do not contribute to success. Efficacy is affirmed by online political activities the youth engage in as a result of their belief, faith and trust that their actions will influence political affairs and the actions of the political actors. The study shows that the youth with regular use express their political and policy preferences by engaging themselves and political actors directly through social media platforms. They are able to post their opinions and contribute to political discourses. As result, they not only enhance their political knowledge but also expand the democratic space in Kenya and in the process contribute to and influence public opinion and consequently political behaviour. However, the efficacy of various political engagements is determined by individual modalities of use and preferences, and thus social media utilities and effects are not homogenous.

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