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Be prepared for social media in 2014 general elections

If there was any doubt on the political relevance of social media, last week's events should clear the air. When President Barack Obama was re-elected, he simply broke the news himself to the world. N Madhavan writes.

india Updated: Nov 11, 2012 22:52 IST
N Madhavan

If there was any doubt on the political relevance of social media, last week's events should clear the air. When President Barack Obama was re-elected, he simply broke the news himself to the world. "This happened because of you. Thank you," he tweeted.

Television was the big vehicle of political messaging for the better part of the 20th Century in the US, but Twitter, born only in 2006, has changed that. The US election night last Tuesday saw more than 31 million election-related tweets, breaking the 10 million record on the day of the first presidential debate.

For India, the implications are clear. India has more than 900 million mobile phone connections and 130 million broadband connections already. SMS - or text messaging - is already much in vogue. Newer, cheaper, easier smartphones and their poorer cousins, the smart feature phones, are partially or wholly Internet enabled.

Consider also that India's population is very young - 50% Indians are below the age of 28. The young population is increasingly literate and technology savvy. Last but not the least, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and text messages are all now enabled for Indian languages. Not knowing English is no longer a constraint.

Put all this together, and you can see that the 2014 election in India will see a significant role for social media, including Facebook, Twitter, SMS based groups (such as the ones on SMSGupshup.com that addresses the below-the-net population).

In India, social media will influence the mainstream media, set the agenda for television and will be a source for spotting the "buzz" that will function like television debates of the new age in which citizens are participants.

As a digital freedom activist friend puts it: "The business to be in now is social media consultancy for politicians."

My guess is that Facebook may play a bigger role in India than Twitter, because culturally, it is friendlier than Twitter and also allows "pages" around which people rally and debate issues. Facebook has 65 million active users in India, having multiplied eight times in two years.

Whatever the detail, be prepared for democracy on steroids.

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