With elections around the corner, there is a lot of chatter and speculation about the impact of social networks on the outcome, specifically with the way it has fuelled some recent movements.
It’s worth looking at some vital statistics from credible sources to appreciate the power of the medium :
As per the recent Google survey social media can have an impact on around 30% seats in Lok Sabha Elections 2014. It is likely to influence 160 of India’s 543 Parliamentary constituencies making Facebook and Twitter users the nation’s newest voting bloc as per IAMAI.
IAMAI released a report showing that increasing spending on social media campaigns can swing 3%–4% of votes in 24 states where Internet usage is sizeable. Social media marketing can play a decisive role as a swing over 1% can change the outcome of elections, it claimed.
4 out of every 10 urban voters (or 37%) in India are online, just a little less than the number (42%) are undecided about whom they will vote for in the 2014 general elections.
Current social media users are pegged at 85 million and is slated to hit 91 million by December 2013.
An experiment in the US found that a reminder to vote combined with photos of your friend who had voted lifted turnout by around 3,00,000 votes, or 0.6%, among those who saw it.
BJP’s Narendra Modi and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi are the two most searched politicians.
While the above statistics and insights speak for itself, I believe that social media plays a very pervasive role throughout the election process.
The role of social media for upcoming elections can be broken down into the following:
Ask, share and decide
New and existing voters go online to seek information, address queries and, most importantly, to form opinions. The same is widely influenced by the social media chatter, information provided by political parties, the ability to participate in a dialogue with the voters, and the overall sentiment prevalent around the leaders up for voting. The conversations also become an enabler for the undecided voter population.
Source of news feeds for traditional media
Social media influences other media (TV/ Newspapers pick up a lot of news from Twitter these days!).Traditional media channels such as television/print leverage social media conversations and discussions to share real time news and views around political parties.
Word of mouth transported to physical world
Word of mouth is carried offline, wherein those who are passively consuming or are engaging with the chatter carry the opinion offline to peers, family and colleagues, thus making it a huge source of influence even in the physical world.
Everyone is a journalist on social media
It enables every person to be a reporter-journalist and educationalist on Facebook, Twitter, Quora etc.and share information /news of national interest.
There is a small but very active Twitter base in India that is highly political and there are constant fights between the right-wingers and the rest, which can be read as BJP-Congress fights. Major political episodes in the country become trending topics and both sides are able to make TV news headlines quite regularly.
Opportunity to influence female audiences
Last but not the least, with the increase in female internet penetration, it becomes an active source of influence and education for the female voters which constitute close to 49% of potential voters, which is not a percentage to be ignored.
There are increasing expectations that more campaign staffers actively use Twitter and Facebook to promote the campaign and engage voters. Possessing a more social DNA is now becoming critical for political parties.
Political parties have earmarked 2-5% of the election budgets for social media. However, there are certain pros and cons to campaigning on social media:
Positive impact of social networking
- Access to new and female voters.
- One on one platform to participate in a dialogue with citizens.
- Accessible to all.
- Powerful platform to educate and inform.
- Transparent, fast and quick.
- Source of positive influence for political parties.
Negative impact of social networking
- Cannot be entirely controlled.
- Prone to hacking.
- Slack responses can lead to backlash.
- Negative sentiments can influence election.
- Misrepresentation of facts.
The facts and opinions below make social media less potent than is believed.
- Many of those who actively debate on social forums are late teens who are either minor (under 18 years of age) or do not have their Voter ID card yet.
- The semi-urban and rural masses, whose votes matter, are not yet into social media .
- It would be safe to assume that most middle class Indians experience political activity on Twitter through news reports on TV
- There is still a significant amount of people that don’t use the internet, or are not “advanced” internet users. Official media controlled by the government is their main source of information.
- It doesn’t and cannot guarantee transforming the same into turnout on polling day; it used to be the same case with election rallies..
Actor and activist Gul Panag sounded a word of caution at Social Media Week, saying it is important that politicians not be judged for not being present on social media.
It is not the only line of communication. Especially in a country like India where less than 20% of population use social media.
However the government now cannot afford to overlook the citizen activism and their overdrive to voice sentiments, protest, and influence key decisions.
US is taking more and more cognizance of the same and hence has a DATA act in place which seeks to mandate the use of data standards such as XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) enabling transparent, efficient, timely and consistent information to its citizens.
Thereby, as the government moves slowly and gradually to fulfill the promise of c-governance or citizen led governance, the next logical step in the e-governance would be to make all government information shareable via Facebook and other social networks. Here in India, IRIS Knowledge Foundation, the publishers of this study, are seeking to do the same.
So whilst the speculation continues we also need to wait for the next few months as they are crucial since all political parties have gone into overdrive, pouring millions to revamp their fortunes by trying to attract the voters through social networking.
Sources of information/data mentioned herein:
- Google & TNS survey
- Hindu, DNA & Livemint
- IAMAI report
- Quora discussions
- Slide share
- Social squared