BENGALURU: The last time Assembly elections were held in Karnataka in 2013, only a few leaders who were running for public office had social media profiles. Five years down, social media has not only become integral for every political party, but also an important medium to exploit and reap electoral benefits.Social media teams of at least major national parties are making inroads into every medium possible — especially the hyper-interactive WhatsApp. Meanwhile, the alleged ‘manipulation’ of social media users to influence their opinion — as claimed following the recent Cambridge Analytica leak — will be unlikely in the upcoming elections considering the poor rate of social media penetration in the country, say experts. They have also raised concerns on whether the Election Commission can successfully curb the poll code violations committed online.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, Sandeep Shastry, political scientist and pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University, said that both political parties and candidates were interested in ‘big data’ to learn about the voters in a particular constituency. “Come election season, it is likely that many companies have approached political parties claiming to have access to data of their voter demographic. However, the question is how reliable they can be. If a party gets unreliable data — from one of the hundreds of companies that might be in operation — it could be detrimental to the prospects of the party,” he observed, maintaining that data based targeted manipulation would be far fetched to achieve yet.
Pranesh Prakash, policy director of Center for Internet and Society, who was also skeptical of the magnitude of such manipulations, said that so far there was no evidence to prove that voters were manipulated using the data leaked from Facebook. “The more immediate fear we should have is not micro-targeting.
We should be worried about regular targeting using false propaganda,” he said.According to Vikram Joshi, an independent analyst, social media has been transformed from being a simple tool that could be used for campaigning to a very powerful device used to influence the voter pattern today. “Social media will definitely have an impact on voter awareness and voter behaviour. But, it will be minimal for a while before anyone can win an election using social media alone. The traditional methods of campaigning remains relevant even today,” he said.
With exponential growth in information and information sharing tools, the line between information and
misinformation has blurred, creating a lot of challenges during elections. According to Major Gen (retd) Anil Verma of the Association of Democratic Reforms, “After social media became integral to parties, there was a bit of a grey area regarding how these activities are monitored.”Since social media-based campaigning is a new innovation, laws and regulations to effectively curb them during elections has to be formulated, he said.
Sandeep Shastry, commenting on the same, said it was impossible to expect the Election Commission to control and prevent everything. “Only if other agencies, civil society, and media join hands, violations of poll code by spreading fake news and others can be stopped,” he added.
Wings of power: Social media strategies of two biggies
Our strategy is to develop more content and aggressively push it. We have already released a short film depicting the failures of the Congress government and two more may be released ahead of elections. The films will be issue-based. We are more focused on WhatsApp and have more than 20,000 groups. As compared to urban areas, we are seeing more participation from rural areas. Even though we want to analyse the reach of these messages, analytics won’t work for WhatsApp like it does for other social media sites. Apart from the State social media unit, candidates are also running their own teams, which will influence the local constituency: Balaji Srinivas, BJP social media coordinator
We are obviously going all guns blazing in the run up to the elections. Our social media strategy is three pronged. First, we will showcase our achievements - delivered as promised — and highlight the next manifesto. Second, we will have comparative analysis of Congress and BJP leadership and how BJP is relying on the Modi-Shah duo. Thirdly, our attempts will be to recall how BJP government fared during its rule.WhatsApp is our biggest tool to reach voters. We have set up booth-level WhatsApp groups and have 12 lakh volunteers from various wings of Congress to publicise the same: Srivatsa Y B, Social media in-charge, KPCC (Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee0