With India preparing for the 2014 general elections, social media is expected to take political campaigning by storm.
Social media will play an instrumental role in the upcoming elections.
Social media is a highly useful tool in instantly disseminating mass information. Apart from serving as a networking portal, social media has played an important role in mobilizing people as activists and generating citizen response to political activities.
It is no secret that Indians are proud of their politics. However, the slew of hash tags, signed petitions, cause driven campaigns and paid ads on Facebook, have enhanced citizen activism.
Where the electronic media relies on “news-worthy” reports and often resorts to sensationalism, social media portals provide a direct insight into citizen behavior and psyche, without any filter. Analysts expect Facebook to play a strong role in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as well as affect the May 2014 general elections. By 2014, the country is expected to have nearly 80 million social media users.
A recent report indicates that the impact of social media on the next parliamentary election in India would be significant. Sponsored by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and conducted by IRIS Knowledge Foundation, the study contends that the outcome in 287 seats of India’s 543 parliamentary seats, is likely to be influenced by Facebook campaigns.
It is estimated that of the 543 parliamentary constituencies, 160 will be influenced in a tangible way by internet-based social media such as email, SMS, Facebook and Twitter and another 67 will see a medium-level impact. The outrage and social mobilization in response to the gang rape of a girl in India and the arrest of two girls over their comment on Bal Thackeray’s death anniversary, is a true testament of how powerful a role social media can play. The internet used by 140 million people in India will also expand the reach of paid election campaigns and will open up more avenues for voters to critically analyze party manifestos before casting their votes.
When the question of how social media is impacting the youth of India was posed, young Indians opined, “There is a vital change. Currently, Generation X is engineered in the manner that it connects the most through social media. Information is delivered in minutes and the response is generated in seconds. It is mandatory to find support for any political
activity on the web first and then on the streets. India is a country populated with bubbling ideologies, which focus on improvement in every sphere through active participation and innovation in ideas. These ideas are spearheaded by the youth. The youth is the one, which is more open and comfortable with change. They can take challenges and have the capacity to achieve the impossible.”
As to whether India is witnessing a revolution akin to the Arab Spring, the youth of India believes that no revolution can come unless there is an evolution of human spirit in India. Until there is unity and togetherness, many believe that a revolution is not possible. Indians need to become one force before they can face the challenges.
Subid, a young social activist and a designer in Kerala states, “Social media has played a good role in Indian politics. It has helped in mobilizing the youth for Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption and anti-rape in Delhi. It can play a good role here in the coming elections too. Political parties have developed social media wings for their campaigns. Obviously, it is the youth, which has a role to play in this sector. But I doubt if a revolution is possible through the web. Like any other country, anti-government movements have a good hand in the media and the Government as usual is keen on banning and watching the movements inside too.”
Many politicians have readily taken to social media in efforts to reach out to young voters. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is active on Facebook with approximately 62,900 fans. Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi
(77,000 fans approximately) are also on Facebook. Similarly, many national leaders have personal and fan accounts on different social media locations, such as twitter. This data depicts a good sign, indicating that the orthodox Indian political system is welcoming a new medium of engagement with the people.
Policymakers and politicians also need to realize the benefits of using social media in situations beyond elections and propaganda advertisements. During the Mumbai attacks the youth took the responsibility to highlight locations where blood was urgently needed. Tweets were sent from near the site of the tragedy and to the countries offering support.
In the 2014 general elections, India’s politics will see a new era of change, with social media activism. It will be imperative for politicians to accustom themselves with this new tide of change for the party who handles social media the best will certainly win the hearts of the people.