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Will Twitter, FB help Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi in 2014 LS polls?
New Delhi: There were days when elections were fought on rallies, posters, slogans and freebies. And people responded to these traditional election tools used by politicians and the political parties of all times.
But with changing times and technological advances, both political parties as well as politicians have learned the art of modern technologies to woo voters; or at least make an impression that they keep abreast with latest communication tools of the Internet age.
The transition from traditional methods to electronic (including online) is no doubt a completely new phenomenon having its roots in last few elections throughout the country.
Earlier, people would not see political parties seek votes by advertising on television or showcase their achievements by surrogate advertisements flashing on channels every now and then. But times have changed; and so have our political parties and politicians.
Contemporary politicians seem to be using all methods to prove their hegemony in online world, as if fake or genuine no longer matter.
Even as social media facilitate direct communication between a sender and receiver, it has been used less for the purpose and more for showing maximum number of followers: fake or genuine.
True that social media plays important role in political campaigns, but it doesn’t and it cannot guarantee transforming the same into turnout on polling day; same what used to be the case with election rallies.
Notwithstanding, it will have its effects since urban youth and middle class heavily rely on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google etc for debate, sharing their thoughts and following political parties and politicians for latest update in political circles. They may or may not agree with tweets, or Facebook posts, but for sure they form an opinion on every issue.
With 2014 Lok Sabha elections approaching near, politicians have realised the importance of social media and greater online presence including maximum ‘Followers’ and increased ‘Likes’ on social media sites.
Narendra Modi has emerged as the 'most-mentioned-politician' on social media channels. The Gujarat chief minister is followed by Rahul Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal respectively. Among the 20 political leaders who figured in a study conducted by Indian consultancy firm Blogworks from January to April 2013, BJP leader Arun Jaitley finished last.
If analysed carefully, the study reveals how political bigwigs have captured the social media space with greater presence in the web world.
Be it Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Arun Jaitley or newly-entered politician Arvind Kejriwal, everyone has their online presence through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or email newsletters.
There are several reasons why the social media can emerge as decisive game changer in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Take a look on following few.
1. Everybody is doing it: Post, Tweet, Like, Vote
2. People like branding
3. Community is gaining acceptance among users
4. Recent Karnataka polls witnessed politicians heavily engaged with social media
5. Many political events become Trending topics on Twitter, Google News
6. 2009 Lok Sabha elections witnessed SMS and online campaign; hence future is online
The potential for social media to become a key player in forthcoming elections including the 2014 Lok Sabha elections depend heavily on genuineness of debate, active users and their dialogue on online platforms.
A report released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IRIS Knowledge Foundation classifies India's 543 constituencies into high-impact, medium impact, low-impact and no impact constituencies based on their online behaviour.
The report categorised 160 constituencies as ‘high impact’ where people, read voters, will most likely be influenced by social media in the next general elections.
According to the report, high impact constituencies are those where the numbers of Facebook users are more than the margin of victory of the winner in the last Lok Sabha election, or where Facebook users account for over 10% of the voting population. The study also categorise 67 constituencies as medium-impact, 60 as low-impact and 256 as no-impact constituencies.
If nothing, the study at least manifests the general euphoria over social networking as a political tool which might define path for 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, the number of Facebook users might not translate into any change in voting patterns -– in fact, 78 million Facebook users in India might not be interested in politics at all but the study seems to signal that the ability to connect with voters through this medium indicates that political impact could be high.
It was BJP who perhaps first realised the importance and potential of social media. The party was the first to embrace the technological advances to reach out to voters with a Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, mobile app and live streaming over the Internet with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the most ‘technologically advanced’ leader in the party having over 1,900,000 followers.
He even used 3D campaign to address people in 53 places. Also, Modi responded to people on Google Hangout and became the first politician to use this technology.
Catching up with the Bharatiya Janata Party, other political parties too have joined the virtual platform for which media and IT cells are being set up with eyes on elections.
Narendra Modi, Shashi Tharoor, Arvind Kejriwal, Sushma Swaraj, Manish Tewari and Digvijaya Singh are some of the popular political faces who every now and then trend on social media sites for controversial statements, court verdicts on famous cases, scams, corruption and their political chicanery against each other.
The #Pappu vs #Feku battle is a result of such online war in the Internet world where supporters of each camps throw comments on each other.
Even as the online presence of political parties and their leaders are in nascent stage with some leaders candidly admitting that their accounts are managed by hired professionals, the impact of the Internet is growing rapidly with easy access to internet and inexpensive smartphones becoming easily available for mobile users. And future elections will for sure see the influence of mobile and internet over voting pattern.
With this and upcoming Lok Sabha election and state assembly elections in mind, political parties at the Centre and states including the Prime Minister’s Office have started increasing their presence in the online domain.
Go on next slides to check how politicians, community, political parties have developed their Twitter handle, Facebook pages and YouTube accounts to woo voters