Politicians and Political Parties are creating twitter accounts, Facebook pages and gaining reach, attention, followers online. A few politicians give their statements on key issues on twitter. Media, relies on such social media for news. At times whole pages, the headlines and the front page of newspapers are completely based on social media statements. We’ve also seen Parties hiring PR agencies and setting up social media cells to woo voters online. With this kind of a Political and Media situation in the country, Social Media has a role in Politics. The current influence is not very much, but will be very high in the future.
The Current Reach
Here in India, a little over 11% of the population has access to internet and about 5% of the population uses social networking sites like Facebook or twitter. Though this is a very small share, most of these people vote. They are educated, most of them are urban and a few have a little influence in the society (actors, photographers, NGOs and other famous people). According to Google’s recent surveys, over one third (37%) of registered urban voters are online and use the Internet regularly. These days most of the newspapers and news channels cover statements from leaders and parties online. They also report about their activities, conversations, followers, search engine hits and other metrics. This can have a lot of impact on people who are online and people who are not.
However unlike countries like US , where a considerable number of voters use social media, where leaders and parties conduct web events to campaign and reach out to people, the social media scene in India is still not very well established to aid politics. Just the social media image doesn’t work in politics without the traditional campaigning and a right political approach.
Numbers don’t mean much online
Recent surveys by Google have given a lot of interesting figures about urban voters on internet. But, unlike traditional surveys or analysis, these numbers are not very much reliable. Just because some political party or a leader has been searched for a lot of time or has a lot of followers online doesn’t mean they/he/she is likely to get more votes. And these surveys collect data from very few people online. They have their own demographic and statistical limitations.
For Example, Narendra Modi is the most popular politician online. But that is because of his image with the urban voters and his party’s social media team. He has been doing huge rallies with LED backdrops in major cities while the opponent Congress Party leaders are doing more rallies and public meetings in rural areas. It is obvious that his popularity and political presence in cities reflects the same influence on the internet and social media. These figures don’t guarantee that people are going to vote for him and his party and make him the PM next time.
There have been reports of fake followers for politicians on twitter.The Hindu has a clear analysis on this.
Doing it the right way
Social media and the internet, though not a very big thing for electoral politics, can surely help in gaining a few extra votes. Do it right and you could hit a lottery, Do it wrong and you could go boom.
A good image on social media, a good connection with the voters, 2 way communications and interactions between voters and their leaders, parties and governments can surely set a brand online. But it should all be done in the right way or it can lead to huge damages. Even politicians who are not online have got bad remarks, trends due to their actions in the real world. It is really important to keep a good brand image in the real world to maintain a good brand image online. For example, The story on Modi rescuing 15000 people from Uttarakhand in a single day got him a new title ‘FekuExpress’. Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Nonsense’ statement was another example. The other way of doing it wrong is ‘Hate Politics’. This is in its heights in the current political situation in India. Trying to spread negative things about their opponents with false information, or polarizing people(voters) based on caste, religion, region, political alignment etc. Social media is not a village and the people who are online are not illiterates who can be divided and ruled. People who use social media are educated enough to understand the reality and decide whom to vote for. And once they understand, they will share it among their network and cause even more damage. So If one can’t do politics online in the right way, it is better not to do it.
Social media and the internet currently have a little influence in the Indian Political scenario but if not done right can cause a lot more damage than doing good.