“India’s first social media election”, prophesised CNN in an April news headline ahead of the recent general elections. “Social media is playing an important new role in Indian democracy,” proclaimed The New York Times in its January editorial. “Social media is changing the face of Indian general elections,” lectured an NDTV anchor on prime time.
That an army of first-time voters equipped with the digital weapons of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts will provide the blitzkrieg in the election battle was a popular English media narrative through this year’s general election campaign. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), along with IRIS Knowledge Foundation, supplemented this narrative with a report highlighting 160 out of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies that were “high impact” and most vulnerable to social media influence.
These constituencies were ostensibly identified based on data gathered of numbers of Facebook, Twitter and other social media users in India, categorised by their geographical location. Predictably, all the urban cities, towns and districts appeared in this list of high-impact constituencies.
Social media marketing agencies mushroomed to peddle advice to novice candidates on bolstering their presence on social media platforms. Likes and retweets were purported to be the new proxies for rallies and crowds. Speeches were predicted to be replaced by 140-character compositions in these “social media” constituencies. Did social media live up to its exalted expectations of an extravagant impact on India’s general elections?
We analysed the social media presence of the winner and runner-up in each of these 160 high-impact constituencies (as defined by the IAMAI/ IRIS report) across 25 states and Union territories by computing a social media index. A social media index is defined simplistically as the sum of the candidate’s Twitter and Facebook followers.
Of the 320 candidates (winner and runner-up in 160 high-impact constituencies), 221 (71 per cent) had no or minimal social media presence. It is of telling significance that 71 per cent of the top two candidates in the 160 constituencies that have the highest social media penetration in the country did not deem it essential to even have a presence on social media for their election campaign.
And 111 (70 per cent) of the winners from these continued…