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Not in the Net yet

Social media is all over the place but it is unlikely to influence the outcome of the elections in India.
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 29, 2013 12:12 AM IST

One politician tweets, his partymen and his followers retweet his tweet. Soon someone introduces a hashtag. Using that hashtag, followers, members from other political parties and the public tweet their take on the subject in 140 characters. If any of the tweets are controversial in nature, it is picked up by the media and spokespersons from the parties involved fight it out in the TV studios either defending the message or flaying it. So, there was nothing surprising in the Congress launching a social media platform ‘Khidki’ — meaning window — to counter the Opposition. Many said that the Congress’s online plunge was a bit late in the day as the BJP had for long constituted a special team to look after the social media with Narendra Modi being the most followed Indian politician on micro-blogging website Twitter and most mentioned (May 2013).

Does all this suggest that there’s a lot on political churning taking place online and that it may influence the 2014 elections? If one goes by the fact that the word ‘tweet’ has been used as a verb, the answer is yes. But if we go by statistics then there’s little point in political parties rushing to social networking sites. The figures of 78 million Facebook users as of March 2013 (the company stated this in a filing to the US Securities Exchange Commission) and 20 million twitter users (according to a joint study by market research firm IMRB International and the Internet and Mobile Association of India) in India leave out more than 90% of the population from the social networking ambit.

To suggest that less than 10% of the population will affect the outcome in the 2014 elections sounds farfetched because there’s little data to show what percentage of this small number uses the social media to remain politically engaged. This also means 90% of the population are likely to vote the way they used — on religious, caste and maybe regional lines. Therefore, as of now, the social media seem like a closed club or a mutual loathing society with a limited membership. Politicians will definitely have to cast their net much wider.

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