The role of social media in the election campaigns nowadays is growing. Political parties are increasingly paying more attention to the use of social media to communicate with citizens. Every politician is aware that engaging in social media is not a choice, but a necessity these days. In Kosovo politics, the adaptation of political parties to social media began in 2009. Since then, the use of social media has consistently expanded from year to year on end. Today, every political party uses social media to communicate with citizens. Moreover, the political communication of today's digital era cannot be thought of without the use of social media. Even nowadays, it is namely via social media that most discussions about elections take place, therefore during the electioneering, politics inevitably extends not only to one, but to several social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

The way of conducting the election campaigns has gone through several stages and what has resisted any change is undoubtedly the direct meeting with the citizens. Face-to-face meetings of politicians with fellow citizens are irreplaceable and this has been shown by numerous studies by esteemed scholars in this field and in different parts of the world. However, the last decade has proven that online communication has a huge impact to reach a larger number of people in a few seconds. A Facebook message that creates great interactivity reaches different people, regardless of physical space, and, in this respect is a big advantage when compared to physical meetings.

Social media has transformed the way information is received and exchanged in our society today and Facebook is one of its main sources. Consequently, every political party and every candidate for an MP must be aware that the strategy of election campaigning must include Facebook presence. Moreover, given the importance of intercommunication with citizens, i.e., with voters, the widespread use of social media, requires politicians to be more innovative, and not only in terms of extending this communication to other media, such as Instagram and Snapchat.

During January of 2021, a total of 1.6 thousand of messages of the mainstream Kosovar political spectrum were published. Of them all, the most actively distributed belonged to the party - Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, with 288 messages. After AAK, the Democratic Party of Kosovo is ranked with 244 messages, while the third most active party was the Democratic League of Kosovo with 146 messages, respectively. For the first time since the 2010 campaign, the Vetëvendosje Movement is less active on Facebook than other parties. Of the leaders, the LDK candidate, Avdullah Hoti was the most active with 195 messages, before Enver Hoxhaj of PDK, who had 143 messages while Ramush Haradinaj was third with 140 messages. Even in this ranking, the leader of LVV, Albin Kurti, is missing. In the case of his campaigning, one can observe major differences between 2017 and 2019 election.

However, although less active, Vjosa Osmani and Albin Kurti have mostly increased their virtual network on Facebook. Osmani for + 12.9K, while Kurti with + 11.5K. The third one that received the most followers on his site during January is Enver Hoxhaj, with + 6.7K. Of the political parties, LVV is the first with + 7.9K, before PDK which has increased the page to + 3.8K. These numbers show the interest of citizens in conveying more politicians or certain political parties.

Meanwhile, this year there is an even greater commitment of the Kosovar political spectrum to use Instagram for political communications. During January, Enver Hoxhaj was the most active with 114 messages, three more than Ramush Haradinaj. Meanwhile, Albin Kurti had only 4 messages during the same period. Of the political parties, Lëvizja Vetëvendosje was the most active with 76 messages, while the second most active was PDK, with 60 messages. These data show how our political spectrum is using social media during the election campaign.

Kosovo has about one million Facebook users, which is a large number for a small country. This makes Facebook even more attractive to the Kosovar political spectrum. Therefore, citizens should understand that it is very important how to access social media during this period, becauseof the many pages created with the names of parties and politicians, only those that have the verification mark are official. On Facebook, the main Kosovar parties and political and institutional leaders have verified their official websites, to distinguish them from other, unofficial sites, which may have a similar name. However, even in the Republic of Kosovo, there have been cases of misuse of the name of a politician or a political entity. For example, the case of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo and Deputy Chairman of the Vetëvendosje Movement, Glauk Konjfuca, when last yearhe had publicly stated that he does not use Twitter at all and that his Twitter accounts open with his name, and it turned to be false. Therefore, citizens should be careful and always see if the accounts are verified, which helps them not to fall prey to any eventual fraud. The need to hold a critical judgment on the messages, to which citizens are exposed on these sites is imperative and, citizens should exercise caution and prudence towards any information they receive from, or on behalf of, political parties, or from, or on behalf of politicians, not only for the fact that that information is not filtered, e.g. by the journalist, by the editor, etc., as happens in traditional media and, but also that information can be both true, false, or pure propaganda.

The pandemic situation should increase the use of social media during the early election campaign , also because, to fully respect the health measures, politicians and political parties should avoid party rallies and focus more on online meetings and communications with voters. This raises the need for greater concentration on social media, so political entities must find ways to communicate with the citizen, without endangering health! Politicians should try to engage the public through live videos on social media, as well as posts on Facebook, or even viaInsta story offered by Instagram. Another good practice is a regular and consistent use of social media because, for daily posting during the campaign, it should never be too difficult to find a reason to share something with the public.

Author: Dren Gërguri - Lecturer

Background illustration: Photo by Ivelinr from Dreamstime / Dreamstime license