Social media didn't play big role in BJP's win: report

Supporters take selfies with a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take part in an event of 'Main Bhi Chowkidar' campaign in Amritsar Monday April 1 2019. | PTI

South-Indian voters dominate the social media space, followed by those in the North. Upper castes dominate the space followed by Muslims. Three out of four women voters have no exposure to social media, in India, claims a new report.

The report named Social Media and Political Behaviour, which analyses the growth of social media in India and their role in shaping political preferences between 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, was of the view that the voters among Dalits and Adivasis as well as those living in eastern India lagged behind in  social media exposure.

The report said it cannot confidently say that it was social media that turned the 2019 Lok Sabha election in favour of the BJP, even as it enjoyed an advantage among social media users.
 

The analysis, which looked at the use of Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter among voters, claims that BJP’s advantage over the Congress among social media users actually declined in comparison to 2014.

The report seeks to puncture the notion that social media and the internet provide a "new arena for online deliberation on politics", claiming that its survey that only one in every four social media users express political views while around half of them they say never do it or forward messages which have political colour.

Eastern India lagging behind

Prepared by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the report says South India has the highest percentage of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube users followed closely by north India while the western region also reported reasonably high usage of social media platforms except Twitter.

However, it showed that eastern India "seems to be lagging behind". "Not only were three-fourths of voters in this (eastern) region found to have no exposure to social media at all... it also has the lowest proportion of users across all the five social media platforms discussed so far. Only about one-fourth of voters in this region were found to be using Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube as opposed to the overall national average of one-third," it said.

When it comes to social ladder, the digital divide is so huge that 75% tribals and 71% Dalit voters have no social media exposure whatsoever.

The report said 15% upper castes were found to have high social media usage while among Dalits and tribals, high usage was at 8% and 7% respectively. OBCs had 9% in this count. Altogether 47% of upper castes had some sort of social media exposure while Muslims had 36%, OBCs 35%, Dalits 31% and tribals 25%.

"The minority community’s exposure to social media was found to be second only to that of the Hindu Upper castes. About one-fifth of them were found to be exposed to social media either strongly or moderately, which is even greater than the exposure recorded among Hindu OBCs," the report said.

Reduced reading of newspaper

The gender gap in social media persists though it has "narrowed somewhat", the report says while adding that men continue to dominate these spaces with their share in the total user base being close to two-thirds even as the share of men in Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp’s total user base has dropped by about 4–5 percentage points between 2017 and 2019.

An interesting trend on social media usage is witnessed in rural areas— while regular Facebook usage has gone up 2.5 times between 2014 and 2019 from 18% to 45% in big cities, in rural areas it has registered a nearly five-fold increase rising from 5% in 2014 to 23% now.

Similarly, frequent Twitter usage in rural areas has gone up from 1% to 6% compared to two times in big cities (6% to 13%). In the last one year, Twitter usage seems to have declined at a far more rapid pace in big cities.

Facebook and WhatsApp have "seen tremendous growth" in the last five years and are currently being used by one-third of the electorate making them the "two most popular networking sites in the country at the moment" while Twitter "continues to be the least popular" among social networking sites, the report said.

As the social media platforms saw a rise, the report said its survey depicted a "steady decline" of traditional media over the years— in 2014, 29% voters said the surveyors that they read newspapers daily while it declined to 18% five years later.

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