Netas now ‘manage’ reputations online ahead of polls

  • Kunal Purohit, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Oct 02, 2014 16:32 IST

Is the online search for your local politician throwing up only praise for him and criticism of his rivals?

That’s not an error, but a carefully orchestrated move by our netas. Many politicians are ditching public relations firms this election for the more savvy online reputation management (ORM) firms that ‘manage’ reputations in the virtual world.

From ensuring that a simple Google search throws up only positive websites to embedding online forums and showering praise while posing as an apolitical citizen to ensuring only negative articles on rivals show up, netas are fine-tuning their online marketing strategies with the help of these firms.

Hindustan Times has learnt how firms often use search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques to ensure that negative and controversial stories on themselves that would ordinarily appear right at the top of a search, are buried, while highlighting negative new about their rivals.

“We often embed forums where politics is discussed and create accounts where often ‘positive stories of a politician’s work and efficiency are discussed giving the leader the impression of being a good politician,” the director of a firm engaged in such work, said.

The work of these firms also involves pushing up potentially damaging information about political rivals.

“Using SEO techniques, many firms often get negative news articles to show up prominently when one searches for rival candidates on various search engines,” said Naitik Vyas, a social media consultant, who routinely manages online reputations for many, including politicians.

As Rahul Jain, founder director of Social Rajneeti, a social media consultancy firm said, it isn’t always data that has to be weeded out.

“Politicians, especially during poll time, are very sensitive about their image. Hence, we often get requests from them to delete or hide certain unflattering photos that come up in an image search.” What constitutes an unflattering photo? Jain said, “Many politicians have had ‘makeovers’ and hence, don’t want their pre-makeover photos to be displayed anymore. There are some who have lost weight as well and hence, don’t want their old, overweight selves to be displayed to the virtual world.”

It’s the scope of work that these firms are handling that has now thrown a question mark over the ethicality of the practice. While politicians routinely promote themselves, it’s the covert nature of marketing along with the attempt to bring down the rival that has raised eyebrows.

For many who refer to the digital world for information about their candidates, these new tactics might mean a completely inaccurate picture of the candidate.

Hindustan Times had reported earlier how politicians were manipulating and cleaning up their Wikipedia profiles to avoid any mention of unsavoury facts. It clearly doesn’t end there.

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