News / Science & Technology

Social Media Played Big Role in India’s Election

FILE - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes his oath at the presidential palace in New Delhi May 26, 2014
FILE - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes his oath at the presidential palace in New Delhi May 26, 2014
The sweeping victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent Indian elections has been attributed to factors ranging from slowing economic growth to high levels of corruption.

But for the first time in the country’s history, social media played an important role, according to analysts who are calling the vote India’s first "social media elections."

"The social media effect was huge for the BJP. … They really understood that social media is an extended version of the campaign trail," said Michael Kugelman, a senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The Facebook candidate

By the time he was sworn in as prime minister, Narendra Modi had more than 16 million "likes" on Facebook, the second most for any politician in the world, and he was the sixth most followed world leader on Twitter.
Taken From FacebookTaken From Facebook
x
Taken From Facebook
Taken From Facebook


Modi’s popularity carried the BJP to victory with 282 seats out of the 543 seats in parliament, the biggest win by any party in India in 40 years.

Through its use of social media, the BJP was able to sway many young voters. And while official numbers on the youth vote have yet to be tallied, the BJP clearly won the contest for India’s young voters.

"What we do know from exit polling data is that if you look at demographic support for the BJP in particular, the BJP dominated the Congress when it came to younger voters," said Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

For the BJP, getting young votes meant harnessing the power of social media.

"We saw a trend, we read this trend, where the youth of the country were embracing social media as their first tool when they started using the internet, and we made sure our presence was there," said Arvind Gupta, who as head of BJP’s IT division led the party's social media campaign.

Gupta said BJP's social media campaign was one of the most important factors in its victory. He said social media affected 30 to 40 percent of the overall seats, a number he said could go up to 60 percent by the 2019 general elections.

In many constituencies, social media was amongst the top three communication tools, overtaking traditional methods such as advertisements, he added.

The importance of social media is underscored by the almost 74 million Internet users in the country, a 31 percent increase from March 2012 to March 2013, according to "India Digital Future in Focus." The report was published by comScore Inc., a U.S. company that measures digital usage.

The same report said 75 percent of India’s online population was younger than the age of 35, significantly younger than in other BRIC countries.
x


"Politicians realized that social media is not a couple of kids talking about fashion, but actually people talking about serious things," said Mandakini Devasher Surie, a senior program officer at the Asia Foundation.

Social media as a campaign tool

"Standard tools like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and then lately WhatsApp - I think these, from a social media perspective, were the pillars of our strategy," Gupta said.

One of the most interesting uses of social media was when the BJP crowd-sourced its manifesto, with hundreds of thousands of people using Twitter and blogs to comment.

"A lot of those suggestions were actually incorporated in our manifesto," Gupta said.

The BJP used a two-pronged approach to social media: increase its online presence while also helping in its offline activities.

In a program called "organize online to assist offline," the BJP used the reach of social media to recruit volunteers, eventually enlisting 2.2 million, Gupta said.

"Twitter by Modi"

For many Indians, it started with the use of Twitter by Modi, who gained millions of followers during the election campaign, according to Kugelman.

"Mr. Modi himself reached out through his Twitter account to the youth of the country, appealing to what the youth are looking for: jobs, security and the use of technology," said Nilotpal Chakravarti, the associate vice president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

The social media campaigns by the BJP, and also by the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party (AAP), which made an impressive showing in the 2013 Delhi assembly elections, helped "define the media narrative."

It created "key messages and talking points" that were then picked up by the mainstream media, said Vaishnav, who is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
 


This meant the BJP was able to create a narrative that the Indian National Congress party - which had been in power for the past 10 years but only managed to win 44 seats this election - was “out of sync” with the common Indian, while Modi was more in tune with a population where the median age is 26, according to Vaishnav.

He added that Twitter and Facebook helped break down information barriers between politicians and voters, allowing them to better understand the candidates and the issues they were promoting.

While Gupta, the BJP’s IT leader, believes that social media played an important role in the BJP’s victory, he acknowledged it’s only a part of the overall strategy.

"Where we differed from both the Congress and AAP is that they didn’t have the base content, they didn’t have the base leadership, they didn’t have the base policy and performance record we had," he added.

"You’re not going to win an election only by depending on your social media presence," said Kugelman, from the Woodrow Wilson Center.

He pointed to AAP and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in Pakistan, political parties that had a strong social media presence but couldn't convert that into votes because of a lack of national presence.

"The type of messaging and the target messaging, and the agenda on which the election was fought, won them the election rather than social media alone," said Bharath Gopalaswamy, deputy director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Tools to govern
 
While the election campaign may be over, the BJP’s use of social media will continue, according to Gupta.

"We need to use it more constructively… making sure that what the government is doing is being communicated in a very transparent, real time manner and seeking feedback if something needs to be corrected," said Gupta.

One option put forward is for the different ministries to have their own Facebook and Twitter pages for better two way communication and to act as a tool for engagement, said Chakraveti, who is with IAMAI.

It should be used as a tool for citizen engagement, and the Prime Minister’s Twitter account could be used by Modi to take suggestions from stakeholders and gage their response, he added.

Urban India had 78 million social media users in June 2013. The number rose to 91 million by December 2013, indicating the growing importance of social media, according to the IAMAI report "Social Media in India - 2013."

The potential use of social media to improve transparency could work in the BJP’s favor, said Kugelman, adding that voters in India and other countries complain "that they don’t really know" what a party's or politician's priorities and objectives are.

“So if the BJP could continue to use social media as a major platform for communicating its ideas and goals," Kugelman said, "then I think that’s definitely a good thing.”

You May Like

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify Power Base

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Maliha Hussain from: Oakville. ON
June 09, 2014 3:15 PM
A good read with some very interesting facts and numbers! Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf that had a strong social media and national presence did convert into votes but massive rigging nulled them

by: VG from: Bhavnagar, Gujarat
June 08, 2014 2:09 PM
A question in my mind is this: did voters' rational thinking or emotions and feelings bring Modi to power?

India is a country of more young peoples than perhaps any other country in the world; it is a fashionable thing in India to follow someone or have followers; more followers one has, the more popular one is.

However, how many of these people do comprehensive reading, critical thinking, and analyzing before expressing themselves on social media. I doubt sound bites and 140-character messages would ever produce leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Lincoln etc.

Here is something to ponder: the BJP got 282 seats; and of these seats, 239 came from 14 states, meager 32 came from the remaining 14 states, and the rest from the union territories and capital Delhi.
In Response

by: skt from: columbus
June 08, 2014 10:18 PM
well said !

by: Adil from: Toronto
June 08, 2014 1:12 PM
It seems like the BJP really took advantage of the growing influence of social media during the election campaign. Although there is no doubt that Congress was punished by the voters for its dismal economic performance, the effective use of social media did play a critical role in delivering BJP such a huge majority. It is important to remember though that there needs to be support for the political party at the grassroots level for them to successfully translate the social media campaigning into tangible votes.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs