Everything you wanted to know about social media and politics

Here’s some of the most interesting writing on social media and its impact on politics
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First Published: Thu, Jul 18 2013. 02 12 PM IST
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Updated: Mon, Jul 22 2013. 12 16 AM IST
Everyone is online, and everyone has an opinion to share. Internet penetration in India is increasing rapidly, thanks to the advent of cheap smartphones. And with it, the importance of social media is starting to grow as well.
Globally, we’ve seen social media get a lot of credit for shaping the outcome of the 2012 presidential election in the US, and for even helping organize uprisings such as the Arab Spring. But how realistic is it to think of Twitter and Facebook as enablers for harbingers of political change, and how much of a role can they play in India?
We collected some of the most interesting writing on the subject:
While journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell’s dismissal of the role of social media is well argued, he does not touch upon its role in spreading information beyond the small communities that are directly involved, so that today you can know about unrest in Turkey, and compare Internet censorship in India and the US.
American criter and consultant Clay Shirky makes his point well in this short academic paper on the subject. He writes: “Discussion of the political impact of social media has focused on the power of mass protests to topple governments. In fact, social media’s real potential lies in supporting civil society and the public sphere—which will produce change over years and decades, not weeks or months.”
Do the same trends hold true for India? Financial Times reports that social media plays a growing role in Indian society, though not necessarily in the elections.
Campaigning in India is definitely being affected by technology, even if the actual results might not be evident. SMS campaigns, blogger meets and Bluetooth-based advertising are just some of the new tools being deployed in India.
Based on this, what has the role of social media in India been? The Karnataka assembly polls in 2013 could be seen as a test case; Lighthouse Insights (an Indian website that focuses on news about social media) has an interesting write-up on the subject, where the author concludes that social media is a long-term investment, not something that will yield immediate political gains.
To keep a track of the online footprint of Indian politicians, here’s a monthly survey by Blogworks and Mint.
It’s not just national-level leaders who are looking to reap gains from social media. As reported in the Indian Express, municipal corporators in urban areas are starting to use social media, especially Facebook, to build a dialogue with the community.
Aside from just social media, mobile phones are also affecting change on a larger scale. Osama Manzar, who is a member of the working group for Internet Proliferation and Governance writes about the many ways in which they are changing lives in India.
Mobiles for social change, by Osama Manzar
Internet censorship is becoming an incredibly important issue as well today, for the reasons being talked about above. With that in mind, the existing laws around the Internet use in India are problematic. This article on the website MediaNama is a measured response to the government, which outlines useful guidelines which would make it possible to reasonably restrict the Internet, instead of the existing, vague laws which are easy to misuse.
Until there is some concrete progress on these fronts though, it’s important to learn how to protect yourself online. The average user shouldn’t need to worry that their records are being accessed without reason, and a few simple suggestions can help with this.
How to be invisible online, by Shweta Taneja
One of the problems is often a lack of information about candidates and processes, and communities are starting to use the Internet to help each other solve this. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, we’re likely to see many more initiatives such as Mumbai Votes, which helps people check the report card of their MP, and collects new articles that are relevant to voters.
Shashi Tharoor, one of the most active Indian politicians on Twitter, also shared his views on the role of social media in the democratic process, and concludes that within ten years, it will be one of the default tools for communication.
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First Published: Thu, Jul 18 2013. 02 12 PM IST