Changing Face Of Social Media
Parliamentarian|February 2017

Activities on the Social Media Have Become Almost as Important as, if Not More Than, Ground-level Work for Politicos. And Non-politicians Like MBAs and Techies Are Guiding the Course of Politics.

Sharad Gupta

FIRST thing Suresh Prasad does in the morning is to check his phone. even before he asks wife for bed tea, he updates himself on whatever has transpired in past 8-10 hours, when he was asleep. And he doesn’t do that by switching on TV news, but checking the social media first.

A marketing executive with a white goods company in Delhi, Prasad says: “I don’t trust the traditional media any more. everyone has an agenda. Some are Modi bhakts, while some are pseudo secular. I want an objective view, that’s why I go to social media.”

People like Prasad are increasingly constituting a silent majority, not only in urban areas, but in rural areas as well. Mobile penetration having reached more than 97 per cent in metros, and about 80 per cent in rural areas, India has actually become a small village.

An incident that took place in the North is often conveyed on Twitter and Facebook in real time. And political parties aren’t oblivious of the trend. That is why they have taken up to social media in a big way.

They have been aware of the exponential growth of social media. Where radio took 50 years to reach 50 million users, TV took 14 years to achieve the same target. The internet got there in just four years, iPod took three years for the same whereas Facebook added 100 million users in less than nine months.

HASHTAG ALTERNATIVE 

It’s not that hashtags have completely replaced the high decibel cacophonous campaign, but the electronic campaign does complement the traditional campaign methods like banners, posters, buntings, street corner meetings and door to door campaigns.

The voter has tasted democratisation of expression through Facebook, Twitter and blogs. The 2014 Parliament elections can be termed a watershed event in this context.

SPOTLIGHT

a. Mobile penetration at 97% in cities and 80% in villages has changed the conversation

b. There is a growing distrust amongst people for the biases carried in traditional media

c. Ubiquity of social media and the common man’s frequency of using them is now the rule

d. The 2014 LS polls was a watershed event in the context of political vibrancy in social media

Not only Indian but even foreign publications termed BJP’s “social media” presence as a major reason for the party’s landslide victory. And it was evenly spread across the country. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wasn’t a cow belt party any more. It won seats in all regions - South and North east included.

This is not achieved through the conventional campaign methods. With the election Commission giving parties barely 15 days to campaign, politicians indulge in not only unconventional war games but also rely heavily on social media campaigns mostly devised and popularised by brilliant engineers and management executives. The politicians have given way to non-politicians like Prashant Kishor and Rajat Sethi to strategise for their campaign. Contesting elections is no more a heart to heart thing between leaders and their constituents. It’s a science, art and above all - pure commerce, all rolled into one.

ENABLING DOUBLETALK 

Election strategists and analysts say that data shows that an advice a politician needs to come out with one group is not applicable to another, and in the end, they promise something absolutely different to yet another set of people.

Politicians try to manage the contradictions but how, is advised to them by the pollsters. They decide political alignments, affiliations and alliances as well as break ups and issues.

Kishor famously managed Modi’s campaign during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, contributing significantly to the making of a Brand Modi. If that was a fluke, then he proved himself once again in Nitish Kumar’s fight of 15-years of anti-incumbency, forge an alliance with his toughest adversary Lalu Prasad, and turn the tables on a well placed BJP during the 2014 Bihar Assembly elections.

BJP found another Prashant Kishor in Harvard educated Rajat Sethi, who helped the party to win in Assam. Kishor and Sethi, meanwhile, are having a face off in Uttar Pradesh, advising and strategising opposite camps.

Sethi still is with the BJP while Kishor has moved on to the Congress camp.

“They are mercenaries. They have cold calculations. They know how to milk issues and situations to their advantage,” says Jai Prakash Tripathi, a political science professor.

“They hire lyricists and musicians to write catchy jingles, statisticians to analyse data, a social media army to win the battle of perceptions. Chai pe Charcha (discussion over tea) was one such programme devised by Kishor’s team for Modi during the 2014 elections, after Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer flippantly said Modi could set up a tea stall outside the Congress convention centre if he wanted to.

MISS NO CHANCE 

Aiyer wanted to slight Modi, reminding him of his humble beginnings. Kishor turned the issue to Modi’s advantage by coming up with idea of organising tea gatherings at every polling booth. he was the person who thought of holographic imagery showing Modi’s 3-D holographic image delivering speech at hundreds of places simultaneously.

This is an age where television, print and digital news is being complemented, even substituted by user-generated content through tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, videos, Instagram photos etc. Media has changed from being a monologue to a dialogue. TV studio debates are being replaced by open discussion in Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Indian youth is not ready to be incessantly lectured by politicians any more. They are voicing their opinions on social media with a vengeance. While parties have been streaming important rallies and press conferences live on social media, even common man has been commenting on political events live.

The news is no more sole domain of media houses. every citizen is a journalist - reporting events as well as questioning the high and mighty. We are at a new cusp of media democratisation.

SOCIAL PARTYING

Big parties have been trying to influence the social media by employing huge armies of social media warriors who pose as committed workers out there to defend their faith and demolish opponents. They have the ability to trend an issue or a hashtag within minutes.

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