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THE INCREASING FOOTPRINT OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN POLITY AND OTHER SPHERES

by Shruti Puri
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Technology is a great leveler for it brings disparate individuals or groups that are divided by age, sex, region, language, caste and creed, on an even keel. The phenomenal growth in the spread of Internet, computers and smartphones has created a churning of sorts in the vast demographics that are spread across the world. And India being home to one of the largest educated middle classes, figures prominently in this churning. As democracy strikes deep roots in India, a new aspirational class has emerged that envisions of a nation which is better governed and focused on improving the lives of its people.

This tech savvy aspirational class mostly in the age group of 18-35 has brought about a paradigm shift in how the media is perceived and used as a medium in disseminating or gathering information. The new media that has become the most sought after platform for this age group is none other than the social media.

What is Social Media?
Thanks to the development of cloud or the Internet, portals such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter or Reddit have become easily accessible, wherein by just opening an account one can be a part of this vast multitude of people having a worldwide footprint. This vast multitude that runs into billions uses these platforms in many a ways, mostly to share information about them. The instant sharing nature of these platforms is what has drawn people in droves. Moreover, as social media is Internet based, its sweep is beyond the narrow confines of geography, nationality and community. And as this form of media is available in most of the major languages spoken around the world, it has people in its ambit that are not necessarily conversant in English only. And not only youth but people of all generations are a part of this platform. Have a look at the stats:

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Its role as an equalizer is evident in the way celebrities, sportspersons, politicians, CEO’s, and commoners can interact with each other on any given topic. The feel of owning a personal space on the Internet sets this type of media apart from any other forum. It is indeed empowering as people can directly interact with the powers that be, bring up their concerns, and can act as a force multiplier to even influence policies – Brexit being one.

Traditional Media Stands vis-a-vis Social Media
The role of traditional media in shaping up opinion on about every conceivable sphere is well known. However, its passive nature of information dissemination stands out in sharp contrast to the active nature of interaction possible on social media. And as more and more people are joining the digital bandwagon, the role of traditional media seems to have shrunk. Importantly, thanks to the one-sided communication being part-and-parcel of traditional media, readers are forced to accept what has been printed in a newspaper or shown on television. This becomes alarming when editors subscribing to a particular political or social ideology use traditional media to disseminate a particular strand of thought.

This makes this form of media to appear as biased – an unfortunate outcome given the expectation of neutrality from the fourth pillar of democracy. Social media, on the other hand, is the game changer as people of all hues can simultaneously interact, dissect and share information. No one can tar the social media with accusations of bias as people with opposing views on a given subject can easily counteract the dominant narrative, should the need arise with facts, figures, videos and illustrations. Check out the average time spend on social media on the everyday basis:

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In fact, the power and reach of social media is such that even the traditional media is forced to make their presence felt on such platforms. Thus, one can find media houses such as The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindu, and many others having separate accounts on social media.

Impact on Politics
Traditionally, the political parties use to strategies, reach voters, know their preferences, and disseminate ideologies & salient features of their manifesto by employing a plethora of methods. These methods include putting advertisements in newspapers, radio, television, and roadside hoardings, undertake pamphlet distribution, carrying out door to door campaigns, and conducting street corner meetings & mega rallies.

However, with the advent of social media there has been a major paradigm shift in the way political parties and individual leaders carry out campaigns. Even though traditional means of campaigning as mentioned above have not been discontinued per se, major focus has been given to social media about the way dissemination of messages is carried out to the target audience. In fact, the growing inclination towards the social platform has garnered a good chunk of followers of the political parties for their social campaigns:

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The demographic presence on social media, especially of the youth, is such that every political party or leader worth his or her salt wants to court them. Every political party employs a backroom team of tech savvy individuals who carry out constituency wise research about the prevalent issues and possibly gauge the ‘mood’ of the electorate. The team identifies likeminded user groups and sends across the desired messaging. For example: if user groups are found to post articles, newsfeeds, videos, or images on animals, the concerned political party having interest in the field can directly approach them. Many a times, these user groups become surrogates of a political party or formation by creating echo chambers where similar types of information are shared and debated.

Importantly, social media has become an excellent platform for political parties as they can reach any number of voters without much expense. In fact, in the 2014 elections India, the increase in the daily number of followers on social handles of the major political parties namely, BJP, Congress and the new kid-on-the-block AAP, is humongous. Here is the data:

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In contrast, traditional means of campaigning cost huge sums of money. The political parties tactfully strategize how, where and what social platform to be used for spreading their election campaigns. The 3 major political parties during the elections have smartly managed their available resources to grab attention of the voters. See how they have used every bit of the social platform to reach out the population:

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Even the Election Commission of India has found the social media useful and a ready platform to register voters, educate people on their voting rights and the importance of casting their votes.

How Individual Political Leaders have used the social media?
When it comes to social media and the way it has been used in election campaigning, a few names stand out – Barack Obama, Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, and Arvind Kejriwal. Even important policies with the potential to impact national, regional and global course of events in terms of economics and security have used social media – Brexit being a leading example.

If some social commentators’ views are taken into account the 2014 parliamentary elections in India can be called watershed elections where the role of social media was significant if not decisive. In fact, some even prefer to call it the social media elections given its extensive use in analyzing, campaigning and messaging the target audience. Even though the outcome of elections was mainly determined by factors such as corruption at high places, policy paralysis etc., social media platforms were judiciously used by the Bhartiya Janata Party to reach not only its core voters but also fence sitters.

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n fact, Mr. Narendra Modi has become the most sought after leader on social media with a vast group of followers on both Facebook and Twitter accounting above 40 million and 29 million, respectively. In this he is preceded only by Mr. Barrack Obama, the erstwhile President of US. During the 2014 elections, Mr. Narendra Modi had used Twitter and Facebook with devastating effect on his opponents. In fact, one of his tweets post the 2014 election victory stating India has won, acche din aane wale hain became the most trending tweet across the globe.

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Mr. Modi and his team deftly use the social media to post quips, statements, photos, videos and illustrations. And while doing so, he chooses to bypass the traditional media (print and electronic), as more often than not this section of the media is unfavorably disposed to him or the government.

Even today, he makes sure that every member of his team remains active on social media and responds to the queries, feedback and problems of the people of India. In fact, considering the history of politics in India, BJP stands out to be the first party to start interaction with the people through social media platforms, followed by AAP and congress.

Right from his meeting with global dignitaries to his family members, Mr. Modi makes sure to share his pics with his followers throughout the world.

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Not only this, but our respected PM also gained appreciation worldwide for his Swachh Bharat Mission, wherein he shared the images of him sweeping a street followed by another image showing the same street amazingly clean.

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Another leader who has used the social media to great effect is Mr. Arvind Kejriwal. This bureaucrat turned anti-corruption crusader turned politician had formed a nascent political party called the Aam Aadmi Party or The Common Man’s Party on the sidelines of India Against Corruption movement launched by the octogenarian social reformer, Mr. Anna Hazare. Such was the craze and credibility of Mr. Arvind Kejriwal among people cutting across class, region and religion that his party was catapulted to the seat of power in Delhi by a whopping 67 seats. In fact, when his party was launched as a crusade movement against corruption and old style redundant form of governance, a good number of people from the media and corporate world left their careers and joined the party. This tech savvy lot had successfully matched the BJP in formulating campaign strategies on social media for AAP.

Consequent to the elevation of these two leaders as PM and CM, other leaders too were ensnared by the reach and power of social media. Now, there is hardly any leader who is not active on social media, and more often than not their success or failure is determined by users on this media itself.

Future of Social Media

With digital becoming the numero-uno medium for almost everything, the role of social media is going to increase manifold. Even notwithstanding the negative fallout of this media in fanning religious and racial hatred, terrorism, and cyber crime, social media is here to stay. Also, going forward, the traditional media shall not remain a counterpoise to social media but rather complement it.


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