In a short span of 5 years, India has seen a rise of internet users, as of 2013, India has the third largest number of Internet users. It is next to the United States and China in terms of sheer number of users.
There has been a lot of hype created in general and specially in media on the role played by Social media in India politics and how it is seen as a game changer in the near future. With so much ‘buzz’ has been created about social media, the trend had caught up in full swing in the Karnataka state assembly elections.
This elections Social media has become a popular tool for the parties to reach out to voters, in addition to Padayatras, door-to-door campaigns and public rallies, all parties have made it a point to use Social Media to send in their messages and connect to young voters on Facebook, Twitter, Google hangouts, YouTube and so on.
Ads of the candidates are also coming up on Facebook, social media has changed politics and the way politicians connect to the masses. The widespread use of social media technology has led to new types of interactions and expectations as people maintain relationships and communicate in different ways than in any time in history the best way to reach out to the urban youths and get connected to them.
As a matter of fact every political party has seen using the social medium to get their message across the masses be it Karnataka Pradesh Congress Party, Bhartiya Janata Party, Karnataka Jantha Party, Jantha Dal ( Secular). The parties have set an IT Cell that is in charge of the official twitter, Facebook accounts, blogs and youtube Videos. They have been updating information about their campaigning, press releases, opinions, photos and news about them.
While social media provides politicians an additional platform to campaign, the real competition is to get maximum eyeballs. For few young IT savvy politicians it is an integral part of their professional and personal life. However, for many senior politicians it is a very new concept and its hard to catch up. Although they have a social media presence, most of them do not operate their accounts personally or reply to the comments. These accounts are managed by their party IT cell and professionals are hired for the purpose.
Many leaders have admitted that they do not operate their account on a day-to-day basis. This shows that some people are volunteering to operate these pages and they have got considerable hits ever since they went live a few weeks ago.
Content on FaceBook:
All most all political parties and leaders have their pictures as the “good samaritan” doing social work and involving themselves in humanitarian services. Most of the pictures are of canvassing, videos of their achievements and so on. It has become an extension of blowing their own triumphant in a new media.
This chart clearly reflects the pattern of popularity of Political Parties Chart 1 : Facebook users
Chart II Twitter uses of Major Political Parties
Population of Karnataka & Districts (As per the details from Census 2011)
- Karnataka Population: 5.273 crore (52.73 million)
- Urban Population 33.98%
- Rural Population 66.01%
- 30 Districts.
Social Media Facts and Reality
According to Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB, by December 2012, number of social media users in urban India reached 62 million and it will hike to 66 million by June 2013. According to the report. “About 74% of all internet users in Urban India use social media”.
Kaveesh Gowda in charge of campaign and Social Media for Congress Party in Mysore said that he was not very positive of Social media making a huge impact. Facebook users, turning as potential voters is a big challenge. Actively engaging on Facebook does not guarantee votes. Most of the Facebook users when verified were not registered voters. Citing examples of many IT professionals who hail from Mysore and are working in MNC’s in Bangalore were found to be active in more than one party Facebook pages; they are considerably more homogeneous than the Mysore electorate. Most of them are below the age of 25 were IT savvy youngsters who are hooked on social media but shy away from voting under one or the other pretext, he opined.
Professor Karuna Kaushik, JSS University, says that Politicians are apparently impressed and encouraged by the role played by Social media in the recent street protests – like the ones after Mumbai’s 26/11 strike, the Anna Hazare agitation and the protests sparked by the Delhi gang-rape. It may be recalled by its role in gathering students and all age group supporters while Anti-corruption movement leaded by activist Anna Hazare. Social Media gathered so many people (mainly college going students) for a peaceful march towards Rashtrapathi Bhavan (President’s House) in the capital city Delhi.
Social networking websites made a huge impact on the above stated campaigns to gather crowds. But getting the youngsters together to vote in elections and using social media as a platform to help political parties is a pipeline dream; it may take decades in India to see how US President Barack Obama uses Social media for Campaigning and to influence the voters in USA.
A former Senior Journalists with Deccan Herald, Vijendra Rao who has covered Karnataka Elections extensively, is of the opinion that social media in Karnataka assembly elections has no major role to play in deciding the fate of the candidates. Reaching out to the rural population of Karnataka through Social Media is impossible. Social media has a role to play only among educated IT savvy urban youths in our country.
SA Hussian, office bearer of Karnataka Congress Committee (KPCC) who is also overseeing the IT cell sharing his thoughts says, Firstly social media will be able to change politics absolutely in India is impracticable, but on the other hand it becomes handy for the party and the leaders to voice their opinion through another medium it ensures an alternative news source.
For political parties to be connected to social media and being active round the clock costs and it is an investment and a long term strategy that should be done not just for simplistic political gains, but because it’s a listening post to tap into the aspirations of the young.
Naresh Kausihk, an IT Professional from Mysore in his mid-thirties, has not bothered to vote in the last three elections. But this election he was motivated and was serious to cast his vote, he was frustrated and disappointed the way things were in Mysore and the enormous corruption that has made headlines in Karnataka. When Naresh visited the polling booth he was disillusioned that his name was not in the voters list, Social media unfortunately did not come handy to him facilitating his to cast his vote.
Arif sait hails from a political family and has seen campaigning trends for more than three decades. State politics has changed drastically and witnessed a sea change; it is become tougher and harder reaching to the right voter. Social Media belongs to the educated and technologically connected citizens. It is not a medium for the masses he thinks. The challenges for any party are to connect to the rural vote bank.
The role played by the Election Commission on various Public groups, NGO’s & citizens initiatives to create awareness and a movement for empowerment of democracy in fact resulted in higher voter turnout and 72% polling for the first time in Karnataka.
Kirti Kiran Kakubal a young lawyer strongly believes that it will take at least two decades for social media to have a stronger say in democratic processes. It is not the number of likes and tweets that will determine the probability of victory of a candidate but his ability to engage with electorate.
Today from a politics perspective, social media can at best be considered as a platform to reach to a wider audience and initiate discussions. Assuming that Social media will be a major deciding factor is a ridiculous proposition by any standards, factors like internet penetration in India, broadband access to voting population, fake identities on Facebook, eligible voters among Facebook users, low voting % rates in urban and metropolitans, demographic biased sampling, and skewed demographics of Facebook users have to be considered.
For all that it does, social media is no “silver bullet” when it comes to political change. “The use of social media tools – text messaging, e-mail, photo-sharing, social network, and the like – does not have a single preordained outcome. Therefore attempts to outline their effects on political action are too often reduced to dueling anecdotes” Clay Shirky, Professor New Media, New York University (Shirky). Social media has limited impact at best on an important factor like elections and deciding the fate of politicians.