Leveraging social media to fight elections, fund movies

Leveraging social media to fight elections, fund movies

A staggering 220 million internet users, 114 million on Facebook, 14 million on Twitter; digital advertisement expenditures exceeding Rs 3,400 crore; four billion video views a month... 

This explosive, Indian growth story of social media had to be documented, its tentacles spreading into every corner of human interaction recorded, analysed, and intensely debated. The Social Media Week that kicked off here on Monday promised to do exactly that and more.

Diving deep into the online space, political parties had had their first brush with social media. But will this new media be a game-changer in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had leveraged its power as an affordable tool to reach out to the masses. “In a short period of time, we were able to communicate effectively through this media on mobile platforms,” recalled the party’s Prithvi Reddy at a panel discussion. 

AAP, through its earlier avatar as the India Against Corruption (IAC) had triggered a mature change in social media interactions. “Every discussion today on social media is about issues. This is a good trend,” said Reddy. Much more organised through dedicated online cells, BJP had also used the power of social media to dramatically alter the “chai-wallah” swipe at its prime-ministerial candidate into a positive message. 

As BJP spokesperson, Aparna Patwardan explained, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook had an inbuilt mechanism to set the narrative. The party was the first to use it as an interactive tool, as a crowd-funding mechanism. But analysts Kiruba Shankar and Partha Sinha were quick to point that the new space shouldn’t be hijacked for campaigning alone. Online platforms had a huge role as information banks on candidates, constituencies. 

It had the power to change the voter’s apathy. For Shankar, the best use of social media was by the Election Commission as it geared up for the Delhi polls. It had its effect in educating the first-time voters to get out and exercise their franchise. 

Unlike AAP and BJP, Congress had relied on volunteers to propel its social media campaigns. In 2009, when BJP strove to conquer the online area through the “Friends of BJP” slogan, Congress volunteers countered it through the “Hamaara Congress” campaign. The parties, however, had to ensure that the debates did not degenerate into name-calling, abusive exchanges.

Could the parties rely on social media platforms to drive their offline campaigns? Not yet, because rural India had years to catch up. 

But Congressman Rajeev Gowda contended that the fast spreading smartphones were getting cheaper and boosting internet accessibility in the hinterland. No wonder, many from rural India were getting connected to Facebook, even if they did not post regularly. The ability to post in the vernacular had multiplied that ability. Rural isolation was, after all, not for posterity!

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Get real-time news updates, views and analysis on Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on Deccanherald.com/news/lok-sabha-elections-2019 

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