In last one year or so, I have come across two broad categories of politicians, cutting across the political parties lines; no, I wouldn’t name them and venture down the controversial path.
(1) Those who recognize and sincerely believe in the power of Social Media to make a difference, and
(2) Those who dismiss Social Media as a fad and believe that its impact on public is minimal, so it doesn’t deserve their attention.
Having seen, experienced and worked in Social Media world as well as Political world, I can safely assert that these medium are excellent communication tools for any established and even aspiring politicians, more so when one consider that very large proportion of Indian Youth and educated Middle Class have made a conscious effort to make Social Media, their second home in the virtual world of 21st century.
Social Media is the reality of our times, in the India of new millennium.
As far as keeping pace with the technological world, again we can broadly divide ourselves into two broad categories:
(1) People who are an early adopters of the technological changes around them, and
(2) People who are uncomfortable with the fast changing technological world and more likely to stay away from the world that they probably do not understand.
But one needs to understand that it makes much more sense to step forward and accept the changing reality of our shrinking world and newer communication medium. If politics is about making a direct and ever-lasting connection with one’s constituents, the voting public and the supporters, then how can political people continue to ignore the power of Social Media.
The experts agree that 2014 Lok Sabha election in India was largely fought in the battle-grounds of Social Media, besides off-course the Traditional Media and on the grounds of Real World.
So, what role did Social Media play in this electorate war?
To capture the already crowded mind-space of the “Voters”, the tech-savvy political parties and politicians unveiled their full-bloodied propaganda battles on the both mediums, namely Social Media and the Traditional Media. As the stakes were very high, viz., who will rule India for next 5 years, the battles were fought in most ruthless and acrimonious way in these two battle-grounds, although primarily it was Social Media which led the way.
Needless to say, lots of emotional ranting and furious exchanges took place on the Social Media, but ultimately only one political party emerged victorious, the first to cross the winning post.
According to the social media experts, the winning party made tremendous use (misuse according to winning party’s political opponents, including me) to stream roll and denigrate its political opponents in most blatant manner. They used Social Media to destroy the “credibility” of their opponents. Although it would be wrong to blame only single party for muddying the water. Almost every party indulged in the name-calling and the mud-slinging of the worst kind.
The political party, which used Social Media in most effective, efficient and ruthless manner, they won the election-war of 2014. That’s the reality; few can deny that including a political opponent like me. As they say, nothing succeeds like success. So one can either live in denial or try to understand the tactics and strategy of its political opponents. I think I shall try the latter.
According to the seasoned political analysts, on the streets of India, far too many people were unhappy and dissatisfied with the performance of the previous Government; as the variety of issues like corruption, inefficiencies, poor-implementations, inflation, economic slowdown, et al dominated the discussions in the lives of ordinary voters. No wonder the success of anti-corruption movement and the rise of AAP, a political party couple of years ago; AAP owed it to the despondent and angry mood of the common people, the Aam-Janta. No doubt, the political parties worth their salt tried to tap into the popular anger and frustration among the voters, in their favour.
If one was tuned-in to the various Social Media sites, then one could easily foresee the writing on the wall. The message was loud and clear from the voting public in their rants against the ruling establishment. No doubt, the main challenger, the heir-apparent took to social media sites to further fuel the anger among the common public on variety of issues mentioned above and finally its effort paid rich dividend.
Sometimes one does wonder on the immense power of Social Media to influence the minds and moods of not only of our common public but also of our powerful Traditional Media. After all the Traditional Media does consist of people like us, who try hard to stay unbiased and unprejudiced, but it doesn’t actually happen in our real world. Maybe the real power does lie in the so-called collective voices of wisdom that it can drown other voices of dissent, with their loud voices called trolls on these Social Media platforms.
One does wonder, is Social Media really a voice of collective wisdom?
The answer is not that simple. It’s a grey area with no clear-cut answer of Yes or No.
Looking back at the time gone by, it’s deeply disturbing that many of these Social Media sites have been flooded with the unverified and fake accounts. These fake social media profiles had / have only one clear-cut agenda on mind, viz., they shall praise their leaders to hilt while on the other extreme they shall destroy the reputation of their political opponents.
The allegation of ‘paid-media’ and ‘biased-media’ were hurled against the Traditional Media by the enthusiastic users of Social Media, the common public and other vested interests; no wonder this undermined the credibility of the Traditional Media among its audience and readers. As a result internet savvy crowd increasingly turned towards the Social Media sites and started following the news and views of their own liking, based perhaps on their state of mind. The news and views contrary to their beliefs and values were dumped unceremoniously.
The stakes were high and war-of-words often crossed the lines of decency in these Social Media sites. One could also notice the sheep like mentality in these sites. Soon enough the professional and amateur cheering squads made their way into the realm of these social media platforms. The crude street lingo was in and the abuse became order of the day. The bullying and threats made their dramatic entry to push the dissenters far-far away and to nullify their efforts.
The mob-culture in social media led to public-humiliation and slander of worse kind. The messages of “Hate” and “Animosity” were being propagated openly. Lots of negative stories and disinformation were circulated freely. These were part of the elaborate electorate war and they did blur the lines of political civility. Perhaps the online social media warriors were drawing their inspirations from their political leaders. Ultimately, it did help them win an election war.
One could also notice a trend wherein the Traditional Media got increasingly swayed by the contents being circulated on the Social Media sites. And many a times these “News” were based more on rumours and hearsay on the social-media channels than on reality and hard-facts. It’s worrying and alarming that even our Forth-estate, the Traditional Media can be manipulated by a determined online mob, circulating malicious news and views.
Every dirty tricks of the propaganda trade was used to achieve the same.
Anyway the Genie of Social Media is out and one cannot put it away in a bottle.
The point is that the impact of Social Media is only going to increase manifold in coming years, more so in the upcoming state elections across India and the general election in 2019.
It’s time for Indian Politicians to recognize the immense propaganda power of Social Media channels and then try to tap that energy to make a better connection with the common people of our country. They must realize that the Social Media is a channel for two-way communication; one can’t have it one way only, the usual top-down approach. Social Media is about interaction and participation. Indian public want to make their voices heard and the Social Media channels facilitate that brilliantly.
One must realize that Social Media is a tool and the smart politicians use it much more effectively than their competitors.
As a politician, one needs to respect that and embrace the change, sooner than later.
Don’t become obsolete. Don’t become Social Media pariah.
It’s time to move up, upgrade and join the club of group one.
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