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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.

The revolution will not be tweeted, by Malcolm Gladwell

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."

The Political Power Of Social Media: Technology, The Public Sphere, And Political Change, by Clay Shirky

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.

India, elections and Facebook kids, by Avantika Chilkoti

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.

Campaigning in Indian elections comes of e-age, by Pavitra Jayaraman

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.

Did Social Media Impact The Karnataka Assembly Polls 2013?, by Kaveri Mishra

To keep a track of the online footprint of Indian politicians, here’s a monthly survey by Blogworks and Mint.

Narendra Modi stays most mentioned on social media

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.

Corporators jump on social media bandwagon to connect to voters, by Sharvari Patwa

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.

How India should approach internet blocking, by Nikhil Pahwa

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.

www.mumbaivotes.com

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.

Tweets Democratic, by Shashi Tharoor

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