Dr. Ehtesham A. Khan
The 2014 general election is a particularly important and divisive election and the role the media plays in it is very significant and needs to be examined. Findings of the internet and the Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the umbrella organisation representing online and mobile value added services, triggered off a serious examination of the links between social media and electoral outcomes. The study, jointly conducted by IAMAI and IRIS Knowledge Foundation, says there are 160 high impact constituencies in India out of 543, which are likely to be influenced by social media during the general elections. Social-media platforms are likely to be influential, making Facebook and Twitter users the nation’s newest voting bloc, according to a previous IAMAI survey released in April. In 2009, 160 seats out of 543 were won with victory margins less than the current number of Facebook users. India has the third largest internet users globally of more than 238 million users with a majority comprising of youth. According to the Election Commission, around 2.3 million voters in the age group of 18-19 year have been enrolled to vote in 2014 out of a total electorate of 81.5 million voters. Today’s youth is spending considerable time on the internet connecting either on Facebook or WhatsApp. As more and more young Indians go online, social media will strongly influence India’s 2014 general elections and may swing 3-4% votes, two new surveys have revealed. In urban seats, social-media usage is now “sufficiently widespread” to influence politics, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).
For the first time, this election witnessed social data being shared with traditional mediums whether it is television, newspaper or the online media sites of leading publishers in the country. Election discussions and debates on different TV channels were no more being discussed only in television studios with experts but the common man was a part of it by sharing their views on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This behavior has forced political parties to adopt ways that suit the mood of today’s generation. Every other political party, regional or national, is keeping itself active on social media, spending on social and digital advertising and fighting its rivals on the medium too. According to Google India-TNS’s findings, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi are the two most-searched politicians before the elections get under way. In addition, 13 million people made 75 million interactions regarding Narendra Modi. Narendra Modi became the second most-liked politician on Facebook, behind only President Obama. Arvind Kejriwal also joined the ranks of the top five liked politicians globally
India has the third largest Internet users’ base globally of more than 238 million users with a majority comprising of youth. This includes well over 100 million active on various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. No wonder, social media platforms, technology firms, e-commerce portals and telecom operators are using this opportunity to connect with the users. Apart from technology firms, telecom operators are also doing their bit to engage with citizens to urge them to cast their votes. Tech giant Google revamped its election hub to include features like Pledge to Vote campaign, a ‘Google score’ tool for politicians, search trends infographics, YouTube election playlists and Hangout details for users. India’s homegrown personalized social media platform Vebbler has started ‘the Ungli Campaign’ aimed at engaging youth on conversations related to various topics surrounding the upcoming election and encouraging them to vote. Likewise, social networking giant Facebook also launched an election tracker which saw political leaders like Aam Aadmi Party founder Arvind Kejriwal and RJD chief Lalu Parsad Yadav answering questions of Facebook users.
Politicians Shashi Tharoor and Omar Abdullah, who have large followings on Twitter, said that with net penetration of less than 12 per cent, no serious politician can mount a significant poll campaign based on social media, let alone win an election, but at the same time they agreed that social media is a crucial tool in relaying messages without delay, and has an impact beyond the confines of the medium. The rising sensitivity of local politicians to what is posted about them on Facebook, as witnessed in the reaction to the posts of two girls following Bal Thackeray’s death in Mumbai, can be seen as evidence that they care about mediums which they barely knew existed till a few years ago.
Social media cannot be ignored It has to be encouraged. It has almost become an unavoidable tool in the general elections. The beauty of new media lies in the fact that we also get the counter argument to what we are saying at one place and because of this fact the use of social media has changed the face of the Indian general elections by providing platforms to politicians to reach out to their supporters by different means. After the 7th round of polling, there were 49 million Indian elections-related conversations on Twitter – more than double the 20 million Indian elections-related conversations on Twitter for all of 2013. While the majority of the users of social media are concentrated in urban areas, the elections have also helped them expand their reach to the rural areas too. Before the elections, the use of social media was generally restricted to the national political parties, but as the general elections gained momentum, even regional parties joined the social media bandwagon. This election is turning out to be the country’s first social media election – candidates, journalists and citizens have been using the different forms of social medium and social sites extensively to discover elections content, converse with others in real time, and express their views. “Social media is a legitimate tool of persuasion. It helps build a personal rapport, maybe more effective than door-to-door campaigning. In the information age, political parties today need to flex ‘electronic muscle’ along with money and might.”
Social media is the internet based electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).This can be further comprehended as Daily Blogs, Websites, Networking sites such as Facebook, micro-blogging sites such as Twitter which is popular among a huge population across the globe. Social Networking Sites (SNS) are the main form of communication for social media. Since social media occurs on the social network platform, defining social networking sites will provide a working definition for social media. Boyd & Ellison (2007) define social media networking sites as internet-based applications that allow users to develop a public profile within a closed system, have a list of users whom they have a relation with, and are able to view their own friends list and that of others within the system. This is generally the model that social media follow. They include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs, and YouTube. Social media can also be referred to as “new media”; an umbrella term that is used to refer to emerging communication technologies that run over the internet and are constantly evolving (Peters, 2009). What distinguishes social media from other technologies is its reliance on social networking sites as its main form of communication.
The rise of social media has increased communication between people all over the world. It has allowed people to express themselves through different social sites like Facebook, Twitter and other socials sites in user friendly media. People of all ages and backgrounds are online and using social media tools for a variety of reasons such as sharing information and connecting with others. When we talk about Social Media we all know how Facebook and Twitter have engaged millions of people in their pages which is also known as social internet. On sites such as Twitter and Facebook “features to search people by name, region and school allows them to find and keep in touch with friends with whom they might have otherwise lost touch” (Ellison, 2011, p.874). At the same time, users can also connect to casual acquaintances who might have some similarities with them, such as similar hobbies, occupations, educational backgrounds, and so on. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have attracted millions of users, many of whom have integrated these sites into their daily life. There are many reasons behind this popularity. With these media, we can see interaction that are more personal and direct because the account owner can communicate directly with those within his/her friend list. In the recent Lok Sabha elections politicians and different political parties started to use the internet to promote their ideologies and their political campaigns. Today’s youth is spending considerable time on the internet.
Political parties and leaders use internet technologies such as social media to gather intelligence on the voters, organize volunteers, raise funds and do research on their opposition (Howard, 2005). Increasingly, internet technologies are being used to provide political information in the public sphere and unlike the traditional media, they posses interactive tools for both production and consumption of political content. Today, political victories are determined by the quantity and quality of information that campaigns can access with regards to their political rivals and constituents (McClurg and Holbrook, 2009). Castells (2000) predicted that political processes and social movements would be transformed by the growth in the network society that would ultimately spread across all social structures. As he forecast, politics is now increasingly being played on the social media space and leadership has become personalized through the use of web 2.0. Therefore, political actors who fail to adopt the medium in their campaigns will lag behind. Tim O’Reilly defines the Web 2.0 as a set of principles and practices that tie together a wide array of sites that have user-generated content and lay emphasis on social connections (O’Reilly 2005). This core ‘set of principles and practices’ is applied to common threads and tendencies observed across many different technologies, and it is heavily defined by online presence (Madden and Fox 2006). Other authors argue that Web 2.0 has reshaped the way we work and have even referred to it as social e-revolution (Fraser and Dutta 2009).
“Internet is just a world passing around notes in the classroom,” said American television host and stand-up comedian Jon Stewart about the World Wide Web. The internet power as the platform for the World Wide Web is manifested in Metcalfe’s Law, which states that “the power of the Web is enhanced through the network effect produced as resource links by network members” (Esplen & Brody, 2007, p.14). This means that as the number of people in a network grows; the connectivity between members also increases (Ibid.). This characteristic enabling network members to connect to one another is said to increase social capital among network users. The internet is still the preferred tool for the delivery of political information though television still stands out as the single dominant medium for election news (McClurg and Holbrook 2009). Internet users argue that the medium provides convenient access to information, sufficient news that is not available elsewhere and online news sources reflect their personal interests. Citizens augment their understanding of current events, research on the background of political candidates or deepen their understanding on issues by visiting websites of news organizations or that of candidates (McClurg and Holbrook, 2009). On the contrary, Jonas et al. (2005) contend that when people are searching for new information they are biased in favor of the beliefs they hold and desired conclusion. Though TV and radio remain a constant source of political information, people’s news media patterns are changing. Specifically, people are moving away from newspapers as a source of political information and towards the internet (Rainie and Horrigan, 2007)..
Social media tools and platforms
Blogs: A platform for casual dialogue and discussions on a specific topic or opinion.
- Facebook: The world’s largest social network, with more than 1.15 billion people using the site (as of September 2013). Users create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including status updates. Brands create pages and Facebook users can “like” brands pages.
- Twitter : A social networking/micro-blogging platform that allows groups and individuals to stay connected through the exchange of short status messages (140 character limit).
- YouTube & Vimeo: Video hosting and watching websites. The 2012 Noel-Levitz E-Expectations report found that 62 percent of high school juniors and seniors watch YouTube videos at least once a week.
- Flickr: An image and video hosting website and online community. Photos can be shared on Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites.
- Instagram: A free photo and video sharing app that allows users to apply digital filters, frames and special effects to their photos and then share them on a variety of social networking sites.
The rise in the use of social media in political campaigns in Lok Sabha elections 2014 cannot be overlooked. In terms of politics, social media has facilitated participation of citizens in various democratic processes in various countries. Social media has grown in importance as a forum for political parties. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube provide new ways to stimulate citizen engagement in political life, where elections and electoral campaigns have a central role. Political leaders have successfully used social media platforms such as weblogs and social networking sites to reach and target the voters and providing information to the electorate and also engage them in political discussions. Nearly 100 million Indians use the internet each day. Of this, 40 million have assured broadband, the ones most likely to have at least one social media account.
Personal communication via social media brings politicians and parties closer to their potential voters. It allows politicians to communicate faster and reach citizens in a more targeted manner Reactions, feedback, conversations and debates are generated online as well as support and participation for offline events. Messages posted to personal networks are multiplied when shared, which allow new audiences to be reached. According to a study, jointly conducted by IAMAI and IRIS Knowledge Foundation, social media platforms are likely to be influential in 160 of India’s 543 parliamentary constituencies, making Facebook and Twitter users the nation’s newest voting bloc,
These platforms allow both citizens and politicians to participate in political discussions or to share political content publicly. Social media is a legitimate tool of persuasion. Although its presence is spreading and media use patterns are changing online political engagement is largely restricted to people already active in politics and on the internet. Other audiences are less responsive. These online campaigns cannot reach the people in the rural belt of the country owing to the “digital divide”. The middle class urban voters may be influenced by online political campaigning, but a sizable number of people will cast their votes based on local issues.
Social media has reshaped structures and methods of contemporary political communication by influencing the way politicians interact with citizens of the country. This paper has discussed the role of social media in Lok Sabha Elections 2014 in a broader way and aims at finding out the relevance and use of the social media in the general elections.
Discussions and findings
The penetration of social media is taking place at a very high speed. The mobile sector has greater penetration in all strata of population and is showing tremendous growth. The mobile phone based internet usage is a key component of the internet usage in India. In addition, many Netizens are using the dongle to access the internet. By October, the nation had crossed the 200 million mark and is estimated to reach 243 million by June 2014, overtaking the US to become the world’s second largest internet base after China.
Social media is a public platform and since there are no regulatory guidelines or credible cross checking tactics, political parties are leaving no stone unturned while boosting the image of their party. Google hangouts are encouraging real time feedback from the public. Such hangouts reinstate the fact that politicians are available for the masses through advanced tech support. On 16th March, the Congress Vice President Rahul Gnadhi used the Google Hangout platform for the first time to interact with party workers from different states. The Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is reaching out to smartphone-wielding voters through the ‘Shiv Raj’ app. The app, which can be downloaded from Google Play, tells people about 25 key welfare schemes the CM launched. In Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is building on its social media presence. The AAP too has downloadable apps for streaming in data (photographs/ videos/ FB updates/ Twitter posts) and a web-based channel. New media offers politicians and political parties a chance to reach a broad and diverse audience, unlike the traditional media which reach only a small portion of the society.
In this information age, political campaigning on social sites stands to benefit the parties in influencing their potential vote bank, its range and reach is restricted to a small audience. With the intelligent social media use the Aam Aadmi Party scored well. Armed with a group of techies, the party collected maximum donations via this media. AAP leader Yogendra Yadav announced that anyone can fix an appointment online with him. It is also observed that the political parties are given more attention to the new media nowadays. It can be seen that along with door-to-door and mass-contact canvassing, the battle lines are being drawn in the world of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and apps for the 2014 assembly polls. The big two, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as the others, are not letting go of traditional means to win votes, but none wants to be trailing online.
For the 2014 Lok Sabha elections different political parties prepared themselves to become social media savvy and attract young voters. In this election there is a lot of chatter and speculation about the impact of social networks on the outcome, specifically with the way it has fuelled some recent movements. It is worth looking at some vital statistics from credible sources to appreciate the power of the medium, such as the new study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).
Out of a total 81.5 million voters in the country, around 2.3 million voters in the age group of 18-19 years are first time voters in the 2014 polls. A positive facet of the election activity lies in inspiring and motivating the youth to vote in the coming elections. The peer recommendations play a vital role in influencing youngsters and this has ensured that a massive number of first time voters will participate in the 2014 elections.
The online community is an influential community. They have a command over their respective following and hold the potential to influence party preferences. It is the online community that is looked up to when offline political discussions happen. They are known to be wired in and hence more aware, that leads to the masses being influenced. In fact, social media even influences conventional media. Different politicians used social media during the elections to influence this digital community, indirectly influencing the masses. Political parties used integrating YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google hangouts and various microsites to reach out these influencers. Online influencers then take the conversation offline among family, friends and professional circles, thereby playing an important role in influencing the masses. In the Lok Sabha elections
Google hangouts got real time feedback from the public. Such hangouts are great for effective reach and reinstate the fact that politicians are available for the masses through advanced tech support. With the increase in female internet penetration, it becomes an active source of influence and education for the female voters which constitute close to 49 per cent of potential voters, which is not a percentage to be ignored. There are increasing expectations that more campaign staffers actively use Twitter and Facebook to promote the campaign and engage voters.
The social media can be used to mobilize support for a political party or a candidate, during elections. The social media is persuasive, informative and educative in nature. Political parties and candidates need to use the social media to carry out their political activities. The social media is useful because it can be used to reach large groups of people and it offers politicians and political parties a chance to reach a broad and diverse audience at the same time. Unlike traditional media, which reaches only a small portion of a potential market, social media is available instantly and around the world. Social media supplies politicians and political parties the demographic data and Feedback helps them improve their online political communication and target specific groups of potential audience. However, one of the challenges of the social media is lack of technology. Based on the findings in this study, the paper concludes that the political parties in India use the social media among youths in a proper manner. India’s electorate is particularly young with half the country’s 81 crore voter under 35 years of age and eager to secure employment and wanting to contribute to the development of the nation. The BJP and Narendra Modi ran a high adrenalin and tech-savvy campaign that dazzled and engaged voters directly through the social media. Modi snapped campaigns selfies that went viral and even appeared as a holograph at campaign events. He has tweeted daily for years.
Suggestions for social media managers
- Social media is about conversations, community, connecting with the audience and building relationships. It is not just a broadcast channel or a sales and marketing tool.
- Social media not only allows you to hear what people say about you, but enables you to respond. Listen first, speak second.
- Be compelling, useful, relevant and engaging. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but think through your efforts before kicking them off.
Authenticity, honesty and open dialogue are the keys.
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