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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

Social media may influence 160 LS seats in 2014

Zia Haq, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 12, 2013
First Published: 01:22 IST(12/4/2013) | Last Updated: 13:03 IST(12/4/2013)

Social media is likely to influence politics and elections in 160 of India’s 543 Parliament constituencies, making Facebook and Twitter users the nation’s newest voting bloc, a new study suggests.

In these mostly urbanizing constituencies, social-media usage is now “sufficiently widespread” to influence the outcome of a general election slated for 2014, the study by IRIS Knowledge Foundation and supported by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), indicates.

On April 4, Congress scion Rahul Gandhi’s high-profile address to the Confederation of Indian Industry, a leading business forum, was trending topmost on Twitter in India that day, some posts by rivals mocking him.

A series of lectures by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, a presumptive PM, this week too garnered strong social-media attention, with his and Gandhi’s supporters competing online to run the other down.

A deeply polarizing figure still, Modi is often accused of watching over a carnage that killed nearly 2000 people in 2002, mostly Muslims. Yet, he has pulled off a stunning online strategy to showcase Gujarat as India’s Guandong, a south China province with top GDP rankings and investment.

Research shows that social media is more persuasive than television ads. Nearly 100 million Indians, or more than Germany’s population, use the Internet each day. Of this, 40 million have assured broadband, the ones most likely to have at least one social media account.

“Unlike Obama, who used social media directly for votes, Indian politicians have tended to use it more to mould public discourse,” says Sunil Abraham, the CEO of The Centre for Internet and Society.

That is likely to change in 2014. Not surprisingly, Modi became the third politician globally, a fter Obama and Australian PM Julia Gillard, to host a political conference on Google+ hangout. 

Chief ministers in states are also leveraging social media. Bihar has unveiled a re-branded campaign called, “Bihar ka haq” or Bihar’s Rightful Cause, on Facebook.

Social-media-impacted constituencies, according to the study, are those where Facebook users are more than the victory margin of the winner in the last Lok Sabha election, or where such users account for over 10% of the voting population.

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