The integration of social media in politics and campaigning in India has been long overdue. The potential outreach through this medium, especially the youth, is massive. The online presence of politicians and political parties on various social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook has increased exponentially in the past few years. The recently formed Aam Aadmi Party fast became recognized for its media savvy and strong online presence.
Some of the key benefits of using social media include:
i. Tapping into the large pool of youth voters.
ii. Gauging the trends in voting patterns and strategically improving the party’s image.
iii. Understanding & addressing the popular issues being discussed.
iv. Highlighting the party’s or party leader’s good policy measures, work portfolio and developmental activities.
v. Providing access to vital information relating to a party & it’s candidates.
vi. Online polls and debates help in compiling voter issues and a party’s ratings/standings.
Although various political leaders such as Shashi Tharoor had embraced the social media waves early on, the majority kept away for the simple reason that they believed the social media would not tap the larger masses in rural India. But with the surge in cost effective tablets and cell phones, internet connections and by extension, social media has made its way into the rural households in various parts of the country.
Thus the growing number of Indians on social media platforms has finally caught the attention of political parties and their PR teams as a potential method of campaigning and sharing valuable information about their work, ideology and plans. Social media is expected to become a mouthpiece and amplification device for political parties ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
After the popularity gained by politicians active on social media, other prominent leaders in recent months have used online platforms such as Google Hangout to connect with the public. The best example of this is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who received phenomenal success during his Google Hangout sessions in the last couple of years. Mr. Modi, who is also the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014, is among India’s famous social media celebrities with 4.4 million Facebook ‘likes’ and 2.3 million Twitter followers.
Giving impetus to this, various social media giants such as Facebook and Google have taken this opportunity and designed certain tools specifically focusing on elections. For example, in order to help voters, Facebook has come up with a new application, called Register to Vote, which allow voters to discuss and encourage each other to vote in light of the 2014 general elections. And Google is helping political parties by providing them with data related to user preferences tabulated from its Google Analytics service. Google recently made public its “Urban Indian Voter” report, which was put together to understand the impact of the internet and social media in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In spite of the many appealing factors in being a social media savvy politician or political party, the flip side of it cannot be discounted. Filtering of information and the genuineness of everything that is disseminated through social media handles of political parties is questionable. Some politicians have allegedly been accused of boosting their apparent popularity on social media with a multitude of followers who are non-existent. And worse, they are allegedly using social media platforms as opportunities to smear their opponents. Negative publicity of opposition leaders and parties is slowly becoming common practice, with spoofs, memes and comic strips mocking political parties and leaders showing up regularly on our news feeds.
Social media with its mass appeal and convenience has immense potential to become a trend in election campaigning strategies. Effective management, intelligent content and simplified info-graphics can prove to be useful in boosting any party’s social media presence and empowering citizens with access to much needed knowledge about political parties and their leaders. This practice has already established its roots in the USA and other countries as a successful campaigning tool. The use of social media in India is still in the development stage and there are numerous loopholes in its implementation by parties wherein their statements have sometimes been misconstrued or objected against. But it is hoped that with passing time and subsequent elections, social media will not just be a vote stimulating tool but a vote generating tool in India.
About the Author
A patriot and hopeful change maker, Riddhima is a believer in the power of women to change the world. She has studied Political Science with special reference to the feminist movement, feminist theory and the position of women in Indian politics. She is currently pursuing Law and hopes to specialize in women related laws and work with an organization in a related field. She enjoys public speaking and is not afraid to speak her mind. Sharma is a quick learner and is keen to gain new experiences especially in the areas of public policy, politics and strategy.