Indian voters did not appreciate negative tweeting on popular social microblogging site Twitter during General Elections held earlier this year, found Nikhil Moro, a scholar and teacher of digital media law after he studied 6 top tweeting Indian politicians during this period. His research paper contends that while Twitter’s campaign use came to the fore in the US presidential election of 2012, and more recently, for the first time in Asia, in the other great aspiring democracy, India.
A former journalist and an associate professor of Journalism law and digital media at the University of North Texas, Moro has done extensive research on Internet law, focussing on disruptions of the laws of libel and copyright by the web.
In his research paper ‘Twitter Use and Negative Campaigning: A Case Study from the World’s Largest Election’, Moro examined all 996 tweets and retweets posted by the six most-followed Indian politicians over a 30-day campaign period beginning April 16 to May 16, 2014, which accounted for virtually all of the mainstream-media coverage of political tweets in the month preceding May 16, the day when the election results were declared.
In order of Twitter popularity the politicians studied were Narendra Modi with 5.19 million followers, Shashi Tharoor (2.25 million), Arvind Kejriwal (2.07 million), Subramanian Swamy (681,000 followers), Arun Jaitley (470,000 followers) and Digvijay Singh (202,000 followers) as on 15th of July. Of this all except Swamy and Singh were also candidates in the election, all were male, aged 45 (Kejriwal) to 74 (Swamy) and they represented five states namely Gujarat, Kerala, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh.
“My hypothesis was that these politicians will use Twitter to do negative campaigning during elections. When you use a name, a label or some other form of attack, targetted at an individual or a party then it is negative campaigning. These 6 politicians stood out for sophistication of range, earnestness and strategy. They displayed a Twitter-focused mindset, expertly mobilizing supporters by using data to personalize as much as to localize. I found out that the most-followed politicians as a group were surprisingly non-negative. The intensity of the negative campaigning as I expected or hypothesized was more than what they actually had done,” said Moro speaking on the sidelines of his talk on “Internet Freedom: Hot-Button Challenges” at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar(IITGN) on Thursday.
In the paper he writes, “The most frequently negative tweeter was Digvijay Singh; more than a third of his tweets were negative. He was also the most intensely negative. Of Singh’s 72 tweets in the examined month, 26(36%) were of an attacking nature. Singh used more ad hominem criticisms than the other five politicians put together. His labels “communal,” “fascist,” “Hitler” and “desparadoes” most frequently targeted Modi. The least negative tweeter was Narendra Modi, of whose 343 tweets, 20(5.8%) were negative. He took one name in criticism: that of the Abdullah family of Jammu and Kashmir.”
“Of the others, Shashi Tharoor (Congress) posted 67 tweets, of which 13 (19.4 %) were negative. Tharoor’s eloquent criticism targeted none but Modi. Subramanian Swamy(BJP) posted 280 tweets, of which 28 (10%) were negative. Swamy used mocking monikers for the Nehru family and nick-named another opponent “rascal”. Of the politicians examined, Swamy used the most tweets for interpersonal communication, engaging frequently, and often curtly, with his followers. Arun Jaitley(BJP) posted 47 tweets, of which 4 (8.5%) were negative. Jaitley took no names in criticism. Finally, Arvind Kejriwal (AAP) posted 187 tweets, of which 13(7%) were negative. Kejriwal’s tweets belied his television reputation of making sweeping attacks on opponents’ honesty,” cites the paper.
Interestingly, the paper mentions that when Twitter turned eight in March 2014, it had 33 million monthly active users in India of the more than 242 million worldwide. Moro further writes, “Later, the election results held a lesson for elevating the Twitter-mediated discourse. Modi and his party won handsomely and Singh’s party lost miserably, suggesting that if the Twitter campaign was significant at all, then Indian voters did not appreciate negative tweeting.”