During the 2008 US presidential election, Barack Obama’s team used Facebook as their most effective campaigning tool. The democrat won more than 70 percent of the votes of young voters aged under 25. It didn’t take long for the global trend to reach India, altering the country’s political atmosphere. It was the fusion of digital marketing and political campaigning that disrupted the norm, becoming one of the reasons why the BJP came to power in 2014.
Soon after, political activists, contenders, party members, and the general public started using social media to raise their voices and put forth their opinion in public. It created space for dialogue, which never existed before.
Back in the day, when television was the most popular medium of political communication, people felt that it wasn’t an accurate representation of politicians’ opinions. They wanted to engage with their elected representatives. The amalgamation of social media and politics changed the game and the way politicians communicate. Candidates across the country are now creating content to talk about major issues like unemployment, poverty, corruption, and illiteracy. You need authenticity, responsiveness, and conviction to win the hearts of voters in the online space. If you don’t respond, you’ll seem out of touch, and will eventually be discarded. Digitisation has changed the face of Indian politics.
Use Of Digital Tools In The Recent State Elections
Recently polling was held in five states of India – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, and Manipur. Representatives from each of these states worked on establishing a solid social media presence on all major platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube. Due to COVID restrictions, the Election Commission had issued directives to curb huge rallies as a necessary measure. This caused political parties and independent candidates to turn towards digital platforms to promote themselves during the election season.
In the month of February, a Noida-based digital media company was approached by several contenders to produce banners, audio-visuals, graphics, and animations for their online campaigns. When it comes to social media presence, the BJP is clearly leading the race, followed by the Congress. The Samajwadi Party and the BSP, on the other hand, are far behind in numbers despite having respective strongholds in Uttar Pradesh. They’ve appointed content creators and social media teams to take care of their reach, and solidify their content strategy.
Experts believe that a significant part of the BJP’s success in the country is associated with the way they utilise social media and personalise their messages for the mass audience. This strategy has influenced a wide range of citizens, and has altered their political perceptions. Personalisation of content includes memes on popular TV shows and creating content in local languages.
During the recent state elections, the BJP conducted various virtual rallies that were viewed by millions of people online. “Virtual rallies were not new for us. We do it in every election and we do it with passion,” said Amit Malviya, the national convener of the BJP’s IT cell. Congress, on the other hand, used social media strategically, to receive feedback and engage with the voters. In February and March, it conducted around 10 digital rallies and garnered significant online attention.
The Samajwadi Party, despite its age-old apprehensions about digital campaigns, also utilised the virtual tools to the fullest. Although the party was more inclined towards hybrid campaigns, the online response turned out to be satisfactory.
The president of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee, Ajay Kumar Lallu had stated that ascertaining the social media presence of probable candidates, including the follower count and the number of likes on their posts is crucial. “The significance of social media cannot be denied by anyone in today’s time in reaching out to a larger section of people,” said Kumar.
Post-pandemic, parties have shifted their focus and are now working more on their digital marketing strategy. If you want to present yourself as a strong contender from your area, then a strong online presence is a must. In the post-COVID world, a political party’s social media presence is an indispensable part of its campaigning strategy. Balancing the campaigns online as well as offline will be an upcoming challenge for all the political players.
Impact On Democracy And The Need For Caution
Has social media made democracies more diverse and transparent? Although there’s a difference of opinion amongst political scientists, the majority of them believe that freedom of expression through social media will eventually strengthen the democratic framework of countries.
Propaganda campaigning against opponents is a common strategy used by several political organisations throughout election season. To battle this, the concerned authorities started taking security implications more seriously. The Election Commission, for instance, put in place some regulations, which included appointing officers who’ll report any kind of violation in the digital space during the election season.
Fake news, name-calling, and misinformation are some serious problems that pose a threat to the democratic fabric of the country. But it’s an indispensable part of the ‘online world’ and comes with the package. Interestingly, a study suggests that due to lack of time and religiosity, people share and propagate fake news without verification.
The surge of fake news in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack in 2019 is indicative of the fact that unethical use of social media can have severe ramifications on national security. At the time, old videos of explosions in Iraq and Syria were being circulated in the name of Pulwama.
In the past few months, numerous social media campaigns intending to spark religious and social tensions between communities have spread like fire. With regards to elections, the percentage of active voters has substantially increased on social media. It is only going to rise in the upcoming years. Undeniably, this increase will revolutionise the nature of political communication in India, but what will be the consequences if things get out of hand, is an issue that mustn’t be ignored. Inculcating the practice of ethical communication in the world of social media is an ongoing challenge for India.