A recent study said that social media will affect 160 Lok Sabha seats in the upcoming general elections. While some have strongly agreed with this figure, others have rubbished it saying that it is overhyped.
Both are missing the main point. While they talk of a high number of Twitter and Facebook users in these constituencies, it’s not just about direct, but more importantly indirect influence.
A few million people get together on social media every day and end up setting the agenda for the country. More often than not, this gets reflected on the TV channels. Anyone following news in India for the last few years will realize that at first social media trends were not taken that seriously, but now they are ending up deciding the lead stories of TV channels along with becoming the discussion points of endless panels.
The same is the case with newspapers. They are not immune to the influence of Twitter and Facebook. It is the TV channels and newspapers together which end up influencing almost all the constituencies.
Every journalist in India is affected by social media. Either he or she is on it, fighting an intense battle to maintain credibility and make a mark, or watching from the sidelines. Either way, they are influenced. While some are swayed by online trends, others attack it with such intensity that it often backfires.
You can love it or hate it, but nobody can ignore social media.
Take Section 66A. Most people in the rural areas probably haven’t even heard of it and even if they have, they couldn’t care less. They hardly use the Internet. But all the arrests that have taken place under it have been high profile.
Almost everyone knows that there is some law under which people are arrested for voicing their views on the Internet. This smacks of Emergency and has contributed to be big factor in the arrogant and dictatorial perception of the ruling government.
A lot of news websites have also come up in the last few years which seem refreshingly different from the MSM and in some part reflect the opinion of blogs and social media trends.
Another important factor is that now it is impossible for the mainstream media to boycott certain news items as they used to in the past. Take the case of the hate speech of MIM leader Akbaruddin Owaisi. There were absolutely no ripples on mainstream media for days after he made the speech.
It was viewed extensively on YouTube and then Twitter picked it up and refused to let go of it. In the end, the MSM was forced to give it good coverage and subsequently a case was filed. This is not an isolated case, but a general trend where social media is dictating media coverage.
Another case in point is Rahul Gandhi. He came, he spoke and the MSM journalists gushed as if he was the greatest speaker of the century. If this was something that happened 15 years back, then Rahul would have been declared India’s greatest orator.
But Pappu was totally ripped apart in cyberspace and even was crowned Feku, a title that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi held for some mere hours.
The same is the case with Modi. There was Godhra in 2002 along with his first victory in the Assembly elections. Modi saw another high in 2007 and a low in 2009, when the Congress managed to snatch 11 LS seats from the BJP bastion.
But why has Modi reached iconic status on the Internet in the last couple of years?
The truth is that we have the Anna Hazare movement in 2011 and the subsequent anti-rape agitations. While such movements have ebbed up and down offline, online, there has been a continuous battle against the Congress.
For the last two years as the scams have been coming and every Congress leader has been showing his arrogance one by one; status messages, pages, hashtags, funny pictures, cartoons, blogs and spoofs have been attacking the Congress non-stop.
It has been one long Cyberspace versus Congress battle that has been raging for some time now. The BJP have taken advantage of this and have definitely not engineered it, an aspect that is lost on many journalists and Congress sympathizers.
Again, if there is so much angst against the Congress, then there has to be some beneficiary and the biggest one just happens to be Modi. It’s been a matter of chance actually.
So the social media has won big time. Now even the MSM, which at one stage kept asking him to step down as CM, is the biggest discussion board for his PM ambitions.
There are constituencies that have a high number of Facebook and Twitter users that will result in a direct impact in voting. But much much larger is the indirect influence the social media will have in all the Lok Sabha constituencies of India.
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