Can Facebook Talks Influence The Fate of India’s Politicians?

Politicos on SM

Yesterday, four political leaders from most influential states of India started live chat with their prospective voters via Facebook. It would be an unprecedented sight to watch politicos with socialist tendencies such as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee using a medium of the elite.

The others include Arvind Kejriwal and Lalu Prasad Yadav who will connect with their voters live via Facebook Live, a new initiative by the social media giant. Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi backed out of the event, because he did not want to face live, uncomfortable questions including question on 2002 riots that killed over 2000, mostly Muslims.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is rightly credited for using technology in election campaigns during the 2004 elections and failing miserably. It is perhaps for this reason that most political groups abstained from internet and social media for almost 10 years fearing defeat. But 10 years later, it is clear that avoiding social media in political discourses, especially during elections, can be suicidal.

Here is a look at the possible implications of political activities through Facebook Talks:

Facebook versus Google

After Google, now Facebook’s is trying to bring political conversations on social media. Since 2012, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has used Google Hangouts for at least three major dialogues online. In September 2012, he claimed that it was highly successful with over 40 lakh viewers, the largest ever if the data is to be trusted.

Though unsuccessfully, Google also attempted a tie-up with the Election Commission of India to start a nationwide voters’ registration drive. With the nation getting ready the next general elections, Facebook has initiated Facebook Talks Live starting March 3rd.

Through this platform, voters can engage with their leaders for six days and have a live chat with them. In a statement Facebook recently expressed that it is keen to engage with its large active user base of over 93 million Indians. It also quoted a study which found that about 150 constituencies (out of 545) in India would be directly impacted by the Facebook vote.

If extrapolated, the fierce Indian political battle is all set to be a battle between the two social media giants Facebook and Google in 2014. Facebook Talks, as it appears today, is clearly coming across as a competitor to Google Hangouts.

Cross-media integration

To facilitate the initiative, Facebook, NDTV and News Laundry have joined hands in a unique way. The trilateral arrangement includes veteran journalist, media critique and News Laundry Content Editor Madhu Trehan moderate the session between users and the leaders whereas NDTV will telecast the interviews live at 8 pm every day from March 3 to March 8. This is a unique collaboration because a media critique will interview politicians on camera for social media users.

While the likes of NDTV are familiar with cross media integrations, it will be an interesting move for all three parties (especially for Facebook) to observe how users to react to this experiment and whether it works for all. It would also be a litmus test of the impact of mainstream media’s social media strategy.

A desperate political attempt?

In the multimedia age when media portrayal, to a large extent, is deciding the fate of political leaders and their image; today it is all the more important to keep your social media users in good books. It won’t be incorrect to say that the BJP is the first tech-savvy party which started extensive use of social media to build is pro-development image to lure the middle class Indians.

Aam Aadmi Party (and earlier India Against Corruption) is, of course, more active on social media than any political group but it began more as an activists’ group than a political party per se. Modi recently used social media to address his NRI supporters in the United States of America, a large number of them, predictably, are Gujaratis. Similarly, after the disastrous results of Anna Hazare’s protest in 2009 in Mumbai, Kejriwal regained confidence in his movement only when social media overwhelmingly supported his newly launched Aam Aadmi Party.

The threshold strength of social media is apparent from the fact that Mamta Banerjee, an austere woman chief minister of West Bengal who lives in a hut and who claims that she did not marry so that she can serve her Bengali sisters and brothers, also could not help joining social media. In the last few months it has been established without doubts that use of social media in the 2014 general elections is inevitable.

However 2014 would be very different for political stalwarts. So far we have seen the obvious faces and names on social media, but I am interested in seeing how the Indian political clown Lalu Prasad Yadav performs through the 21st century technology. We leave you to partly judge these five leaders by their social media numbers.

Akhilesh Yadav – 414,672 likes; 45000 talking about him

Akhilesh Yadav is the (youngest) chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most comic and underdeveloped state. If you are absolutely politically ignorant and happen to visit his Facebook page then you may think that he is an athlete cyclist because he is always seen cycling on the roads of UP to promote his political party symbol – the bicycle.

Mamta Banerjee – 610,418 likes 21,841 talking about her.

Mamta Banerjee is the self-proclaimed iron lady and saviour of West Bengal who believes in Maa, Maati, Maanush (Mother, motherland and humanism). She is loud and almost always agitated. Surprisingly, she appears to be quite active on Facebook. Her image on social media is diametrically opposite of what she really is. She looks really cool through her Facebook images.

Arvind Kejriwal – Over 4.4 million likes; 523,868 talking about him.

He is the modern, fearless Gandhian who never tucks his oversized shirt into his pants and coughs involuntarily as he speaks. He is on a mission to clean a nation which is synonymous with corruption.

His social media presence is fierce, dynamic, modern and gives sleepless nights to those who are on his radar. He has a huge number of social followers; largely Gen Y who believes that AK is deservedly the hero of India’s second freedom movement.

Narendra Modi – Over 10 million likes; 873,924 talking about him.

His social media presence reminds of Raj Kapoor films, a self-contained, self-obsessed and larger than life image of the saffron Hindu man who aspires to be India’s next prime minister. It is difficult to believe through his colourful kurtas, brags on economy and photoshopped image gallery on Facebook that over 2200 innocent human, mostly Muslims, were butchered under his nose in Gujarat.

Lalu Prasad Yadav

His does not have an official Facebook page, but the sheer mention of his name is a great source of entertainment on social media. You can visit his fake FB and Twitter pages for free doses of jokes on cow, milk, fodder and his wife Rabri Devi.