BJP’s organised band of tweeters dominates social media, says Shashi Tharoor
The Congress leader says the BJP’s tweeters have dominated social media and outstrip other parties in sheer numbers and persistence. They mount campaigns against those they disagree with and do so quite effectively.Updated: May 17, 2017 07:04 IST
Shashi Tharoor speaks to Hindustan Timeson how Twitter helped influence the electorate in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Excerpts from the interview:
There were an estimated 33 million twitter users in India at the time of 2014 elections in which 540 million voted. Social media’s reach here is largely limited to urban areas. How far can we rely on tweets, in terms of sample size, to predict poll trends?
I don’t think that in 2014, tweets reflected anything more than the relative organisational strengths of social media units on both sides. But as cheaper smartphones and 4G SIMs make access to the internet more universal, that story could change and Twitter could become more reflective of genuine public sentiment. In that case it may become possible to predict poll results from social media trends. But not yet.
As conclusions of the study show, if negative sentiments played a crucial role in 2014 elections, can it be assumed Twitter is a more effective tool in the hands of opposition?
I would not jump to that conclusion because the BJP behaves like the Opposition even while in power! Their organised band of tweeters, retweeters and trolls have dominated social media and outstrip other parties in sheer numbers and persistence. They mount campaigns against those they disagree with and do so quite effectively.
Can we conclude that leaders or parties with a larger pool of followers could get the better of their rivals in an election? Your personal experience?
Twitter helps in two ways: First, it is an excellent publicity tool as mainstream media derives news from tweets and so your messages, opinions and photos on Twitter can make their way to a wider audience. Second, it consolidates your image among the 10% or so of your voters (higher perhaps in some metros but about 10% in Trivandrum) who follow you on Twitter.
Where Twitter does not help is in influencing the majority of the electorate directly because in most Indian constituencies Twitter simply does not reach the majority.In 2014, I would not even say that it influenced the influencers because we still come from a country where influencers emerge from more traditional backgrounds, including classic power-brokers, veteran political managers and religious and community leaders.
I believe Twitter and social media generally will grow in importance, and so it is important to get in on the ground floor and establish one’s base. But I do not think Twitter helped me much in my 2014 election. If I last long enough, the answer may be different in 2024.