2014 general election is perhaps the most significant and colorful election in India after independence. Emergence of social media as an important tool of electoral campaign has coincided with this phenomenon. As the statistics show, only 16% of young adults use internet and only half of them use social networking sites like facebook and twitter. Majority of the people (35%), who use social networking sites, keep the political news in a lower rung of their priority ladder, following common sharing activities for music, movies and religious news. How the social media retains and strengthens its capacity becomes an intricate part of the party-people dialogue and a glimpse of such effort will be manifested in the result of 16th May.
Political parties and the supporters are using social media aggressively to spread their message while the opponents, too, are using the same platform to retort back with denials and counter facts. The bug from this virtual battlefield is infecting every social networking site users, even those innocent bystanders who prefer to stay neutral in an otherwise polarized background, with heavy dose of political consciousness, with facts and figures, with tall claims and short tempers as presented by almost all the political stands around. This election has many things new in its offing like dramatic up-rise of AAP in the capital and Modi’s larger-than-life presence in national conscience. With no dearth of dramatic elements in this socio-political carnival, the ‘Aam aadmi’ himself is enjoying a feeling of intense involvement as everyone is capable to prove his bit of loyalty by forwarding the messages shared by his party or ‘liking’ the ‘post’ of his leader in the social networking sites.
But, there is a ‘but’. A ‘but’ big enough to question the validity of the perceived impact of this virtual reality on India’s political scenario. While there is no denial that along with rallies, cut-outs, posters and hoardings, ‘trendings’ and ‘status updates’ are playing a big role in urban campaigns, how effective are the latter two in shaping the mind of rural India? Moreover, to an average technophilic urban mind, how much space does the political news occupy in comparison to other information to influence the formation of opinionated view? As the statistics show, only 16% of young adults use internet and only half of them use social networking sites like facebook and twitter. Majority of the people (35%), who use social networking sites, keep the political news in a lower rung of their priority ladder, following common sharing activities for music, movies and religious news. Although among the total population of India, almost 77% are mobile phone users, only 8% use the mobile for updated news of politics. This revelation is quite an eye opener in assessing the role of social networking in politics. As the social networking site enables user to actively take part in political newstream by pressing the ‘share’ and ‘like’ options, does this statistic point towards a fact that the ease of the very process often alienates the user from retaining the impact of political newsfeed? Or do the mandates and opinions shared in twitters similarly lack the influencing power of conventional campaign methods?
Apart from providing people with the cheap dose of caricature of opponents ‘netas’ in social networking sites and spreading viral videos depicting hate speeches from the heavy weights, do these social media based political campaignsÂ boast of being cutting age instrument in defining peoples view towards country’s political landscape and help people to be empowered with real decision making skill? Whatever be the actuality of the situation, for the time being, the PR wings of political parties are working overtime in order to flood the virtual place with messages, photos, agendas and other promotional means. How the social media retains and strengthens its capacity becomes an intricate part of the party-people dialogue and a glimpse of such effort will be manifested in the result of 16th May.