Parties battle it out on social media

Use Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp to blow their trumpet, attack Opposition parties

Representative image

If #CongressLootsKarnataka, then it is the #BharatiyaJailParty. If BJP National president Amit Shah is the #ShahofLies, then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is a #10PercentCM.

Ahead of the crucial May 12 Assembly elections, arch-rivals -  the Congress and the BJP - are engaged in a heated, if not a nasty battle to set the narrative. The battlefield: social media.

Microblogging site Twitter, social networking site Facebook and instant messenger WhatsApp have become campaign tools that both parties are using with vigour, that can be compared with the 2014 Lok Sabha polls the BJP swept, according to Bengaluru-based social media evangelist Tinu Cherian Abraham.

"This is probably the first time, after 2014, social media is being used so extensively. A resurgent Congress has finally gained a foothold on a social media-led campaign and the BJP is trying to defend its stronghold," Abraham said. 

The BJP's social media campaign has been an aggressive one ahead of the polls, taking the attack directly to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. "There is distress among people over malgovernance, especially anti-farmer and anti-Hindu policies of the Congress. People are responding well to this narrative. People are forwarding the content we send out, so much so that we end up receiving them ourselves," said Balaji Srinivas, a former consultant and the convenor of BJP's state social media cell. The party has built a social media army over the last one year in view of the elections, he said.

The Congress too is playing hardball. "A key difference is that the BJP is trying to find new issues every day and come up with new lines of attack. In contrast, we have a set narrative in which we focus on just a few things: How the Congress delivered as promised, that the BJP is a party of jailbirds, Kannada/Karnataka pride and failure of the Modi administration towards Karnataka," said Srivatsa Y B, who heads the Congress' social media campaign in Karnataka. "Our narrative may get boring and may not get shared as much, but we think we have the BJP on the defensive."

Amid the BJP-Congress fight, the JD(S) is making an attempt to find its niche on social media. "Our social media pages have daily updates. We are informing the public about what is happening in the party, what our leaders say etc. The BJP and the Congress are only fighting," said Naveen C, vice-president at a multinational corporation who heads the JD(S)' IT wing.

Naveen believes that the social media mandate is far easier for the regional party. "Our only leader is H D Kumaraswamy. All that we can do is push his achievements. The party is reaching out to three crore voters through text messages, with Kumaraswamy pleading them to give him a chance. The 'Namma HDK' social media page has been outsourced, whereas a Pune-based company has been tasked with carrying out text and voice messaging."

Social media started figuring prominently in political campaigns in the mid-2000s, according to a 2015 research article. The power of social media was cemented during Barack Obama's 2008 US presidential campaign, which used Facebook in exceptional ways to reach out to young voters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too made full use of social media during the 2014 polls.

All three parties have set up war rooms to manage their social media campaigns. But can hashtags convert into votes?

 

 
BJP Congress JD(S)

 

  • Balaji Srinivas (27)
    (Karnataka BJP's Social Media Convenor)
  • War Room: 40 members
  • State team: 15 members
  • District team: 15 members
  • Constituency team: 15
  • Booth-level WhatsApp groups
  • Srivatsa Y B (34
    (Karnataka Congress' Social Media Convenor)
  • War Room: 30 members
  • 224 constituency-level social media convenors
  • 30 district-level convenors
  • Booth-level WhatsApp groups
  • Naveen C (45
    (Head of IT wing)
  • War Room: 20 members
  • Core volunteers: 12
  • Key focus: Namma HDK Facebook page, text SMS, Voice SMS
How leaders stack up
B S Yeddyurappa
Facebook: 17.21 lakh followers
Twitter: 2.7 lakh followers

Siddaramaiah
Facebook: 1.7 lakh followers
Twitter: 1.37 lakh followers

H D Kumaraswamy
Facebook: 2.3 lakh followers
Twitter: 11,000 followers

 

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