The term Mass Media can be defined as technology that is intended to reach a mass audience. The most common platforms of mass media include newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the internet. The general public characteristically depends on mass media to access news, ranging from political issues, social issues, entertainment and business news amongst others.
In India, citizens get access to news and information mainly from different media outlets, the most dominant ones being Indian newspapers and news channels. The media further plays an important role in informing citizens about the daily political updates, and therefore achieves an even more central role during the electoral process and campaigns run by different political parties. Hence, mass media is of utmost importance in the political realm, as it influences public opinion and helps to define and take up crucial issues. The advent of mass media has almost transformed the idea of a ‘public sphere’ which was much emphasized by the renowned sociologist Jurgen Habermas.
Today, mass media has become an important tool to keep the powerful in check by seeking transparency for their actions or to address any grievances faced by the general public; which is why the media is known as the watchdog of democracy. The Indian society, as we know, has been witness to a massive growth of social media, and various social media platforms have not only made it easier to connect with people but have also provided a network which has become dominant in discussing the political narrative of our country. Mass media has also acted as a catalyst for political parties during election campaigns.
A India has become a digital society where social media has embedded itself in the lives of people (India ranks on the top of the list in the countries with the highest number of Facebook users at 270 million) Inevitable, election campaigning has been slowly shifting towards the digital arena in the past few years. The use of social media for political outreach has exploded in recent years, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been the pioneer of using social media as well as mass media to its advantage in the 2014 election. The party employed social media as a key campaign tool in the 2014 election. In sheer numbers, the BJP dominated social media during the election. It is considered that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was India’s first real media election and that it was ‘media logic’, not ‘political logic’ that determined the outcome of the elections, and the BJP’s victory was largely due to its high voltage media campaign. Some have blamed the media for letting the public relations agencies of Narendra Modi’s campaign influence their election coverage while others have argued that TV’s obsession with Modi was a result of a convergence between corporate ownership of the electronic media and Modi’s corporate bank-rollers.
Even though social media is a great tool for campaigning, the present state of online advertising and marketing faces a huge threat due to fake news and tailored content to sway voters. The parent company of the controversial data mining operation Cambridge Analytica may have worked on Indian political campaigns for years. According to documents released by a whistle-blower, this raises major concerns regarding the data about voters that may have been misused. It was claimed by Christopher Wylie, a whistle-blower who exposed Cambridge Analytica, that the firm’s parent company, Strategic Communications Limited, piloted behavioral research and polling for at least six state elections in India between 2003 and 2012, comprising the 2009 national election. It is not clear whether the company misused the private data, but social media has become a popular arena for campaigning and it requires strict regulations.
Herein, one can say that politics and media share a complex synergistic relationship and must be looked at in juxtaposition to one another. Media, politics and elections are intertwined together and social media platforms have become the essential ground for the discussion of political narratives and discourse, but one must also exercise caution while engaging in a political dialogue on social media.
With the general elections next year, one will have to keep an eye out for the various kinds of campaigning that will be done on social media by different political parties.