IntroductionOnJanuary 17, 2001, when the Philippine President Joseph Estrada was being triedfor impeachment, the supporters of the regime decided to set aside the keyevidence implicating Estrada. Following the announcement of this decision, in amatter of 2 hours, thousands of people had converged on Epifanio de los SantosAvenue. The protest was organized, in part, by forwarded text messages thatread ‘Go 2 edsa. Wear blk.’. The crowd swelled and within a few days millionsof people had arrived. This massive and rapid response on the part of thepublic was so alarming to the legislators that the decision was repealed andEstrada was tried with all the evidence, resulting in his impeachment. Accordingto the dictionary, social media refers to websites and applications that enable users to create andshare content or to participate in social networking.
This includesFacebook, Twitter, e-mail, WhatsApp, text messages, YouTube and all kinds of chatforums. Very quickly social media has become a huge part of the daily lives ofpeople. As of 30 June 2017, the world is experiencing an internet penetrationof over 51%, and of these people 72% use social media cites(cited from InternetWorld Stats, URL: http://www.internetworldstats.
com/stats.htm). According to Internet World Stats, thepercentage of Indian population that uses the internet has grown from 0.7% in2001 to over 36% in 2015.
This exponential growth means that more and morepeople now have access to the free domain that constitutes the World Wide Web.Asthis access grows, along with grows the information that is available to peopleand so, the awareness among people. With this, people have a greater chance tointeract in the public sphere.
Like minded individuals are coming together withgreater ease and discussions allow for people from all demographics to presenttheir point of view. This allows for an enhanced ability of the masses toundertake widespread and conducive collective action. Thus, one can say thatsocial media contributes to the formation of a strong public sphere and civilsociety. (Shirky, C. (2011))Theresearcher believes that in today’s time, this access to social media, and assuch to the happenings of the rest of the world, has a huge impact on thepolitical discourse of any country. The voting age of 18 means that any personborn before 2000 will now be eligible to vote. All of these individuals whowere in their early adolescence in the 2000-2010 period will have, hence, grownup in an environment that was constantly being effected by the internet. Theresearcher will henceforth refer to these individuals as the networkinggeneration, which includes individuals born from 1990 to 2000, on a broadlevel.
Theresearcher believes that the networking generation had access to the internetvery early in life, and so has habitually adopted it as a fundamental part oftheir eco system. Therefore, it depends on the internet for the most basic of things,such as news, keeping in contact with friends and relatives, and professionalneeds. This constant interaction between these individuals and the world wideweb has resulted in the formation of an organic society of people from all overthe world, sharing information in the form of text, images, videos and audiosabout all topics, ranging from art, humanities, discoveries, mathematics,literature and most importantly, current events.
It is much easier now to knowwhat exactly is happening in Uzbekistan, than it was, say, 30 years ago.Admittedly, that seems like a long time. But from the point of view ofpolitics, where generally a serving term is of 5 years (on an average), thisjust amounts to 6 terms. Asa result, popular opinion on Twitter, often translates into popular opinion onground. If a political candidate is able to influence this networkinggeneration, then it translates into a chain reaction of retweets and likes andshares, which further transmits his message to the most obscure of places on themap and allows him to reach audience that wasn’t even being originallytargeted.Becauseof this, in recent times, the use of social media as a campaign front hasincreased tremendously. Voters believe that social media interaction with apolitical candidate makes them feel more connected to the candidate, while alsoallowing them to hold them accountable to their word.
Social media allows themto keep up better with the political discourse, the controversies and all kindsof news surrounding their nation’s political climate. The ease with socialmedia mobilization is possible is another reason that political campaignexpenditures have seen a rise in spending on digital campaigning. Narendra Modiwas the first politician in India to employ social media as a campaigningplatform. Obama also indulged in a lot of social media campaigning with his’Ask Me Anything’ thread on reddit. Donald Trump, most recently, has emerged asanother political figure to have successfully used social media as a gamechanger in the 2016 US Presidential Elections.Theresearcher, hence, believes that social media is one of the major drivingforces in the political sphere because of increased number of politicalcampaigns and the magnification provided by social media.Nowto contribute to the research, the researcher would like to consider 2 cases:one of Donald Trump and the other of Narendra Modi.
Donald Trump and the 2016 USPresidential ElectionsInthe 2016 elections, Donald Trump secured 46.1% of the votes compared to 48% votessecured by Hillary Clinton, and won by winning 304 electoral votes. On socialmedia sites, he had 21 million likes on Facebook, and over 46.8 millionfollowers on Twitter. Clinton on the other hand, had 10 million likes onFacebook and about 21.4 million followers on Twitter.
The stark differencebetween the social media presence of the two is easily discernible. Easy tosay, Trump won over social media with his lack of finesse, immediate updatesthroughout the campaign, transparent comments on the political climate andaffinity to risks. Clinton, though, suffered from a cold and calculated socialmedia presence which was late to take up the social media trend (her socialmedia activity only became political after the third debate) and seemed too carefullycrafted to readers to be of any impact. It is important to voters to be able toconnect with their candidates before voting for them.
It was easier for them toconnect with the laid back attitude of Trump than with the cultured socialmedia presence of Clinton. Anothervery important factor in this election, the researcher feels, has been the factthat Trump is a businessman. He runs several businesses, catering to differentaudiences and so understands their demands much better than Clinton. Trump’s moreactive and more engaging following assured him that his tweets, even if theywere more disliked than appreciated, would be talked about in a huge umbrellaof consumers. Googletrends further shows a clear interest in Trump over Clinton in the campaigningperiod, with trump being mentioned 5 times more than Clinton.
(Refer toappendix for images.) Overall, this interest in Trump accelerated his onlinemarketing to a great degree.Thus,this publicity and curiosity about Trump, ultimately, resulted in his victoryover Clinton.Narendra Modi and the 2014 Indian GeneralElectionsNarendraModi is credited as the first Indian political figure to use social media as aplatform for campaigning in his run for the Prime Minister’s office.
Hiscampaign was a wholesome activity that attended, or tried to attend to the social,political, moral, emotional and epistemic values of every possible voter,irrespective of caste, creed or religion. He talked about Hindutva, Swadeshi,India regaining its place among the leaders of the world, and innovation thatwould be supported by a growing economy and a corruption free state. Butone of the differentiating points of his campaign was the social mediacampaign. It was a fresh outlook on segregating audiences. While older audiencesare easily gathered through television programs and speeches, he understood thefact that to reach the networking generation, he would have to approach them ona platform that they are comfortable with.
Hence, the social media campaign. Hetook to Twitter and Facebook. He made frequent posts, intermittent with jokesand anecdotes that helped him get the support of his target audience. Eventhough Rahul Gandhi had the advantage of being younger and so could have capturedthis networking generation easily, his attachment to age old mechanisms losthim this opportunity.
Googletrends shows that from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2014, Modi was mentionedalmost 7 times more than Gandhi was. Modi had 39 million Twitter followers andhis page ‘I support Narendra Modi’ and the launching of a WhatsApp numbercontributed to his success on the social media front. One might argue thatbeing the only player on social media, Narendra Modi had an unfair advantage,but the researcher believes that the opportunity was present to both Gandhi andModi, and Modi’s only advantage was realizing his opportunities before Gandhidid.TheWhatsApp number and the Twitter page finally allowed Modi to connect with anaudience 40 years his junior, an audience that would otherwise have been veryhard to connect with. Addition of the ‘#selfiewithmodi’ trend and making peopleaware of their voting rights, this innovative approach, allowed Modi to winover 31% votes and become the Prime Minister of India. Social MagnificationNowthat we have sufficiently discussed the advantage provided to politicalcandidates because of social media, the researcher would like to introduce theconcept of social magnification. Social magnification,or socioamplifiation, as defined bythe researcher, is the increasing awareness or information about any topic inthe global social structure with each message, in the form of texts, retweets,tweets, shares, posts, or other social media based ephemera.
(Ephemerareferring to things that exist orare used for only a short time.)The researcher believes that in all previouslyconducted researches, a missing factor to be considered had been themagnification social media provides to any issue or topic of discussion. Thecorrelation between social media and political success is incomplete if onedoes not account for the continuous spread of a post or a tweet or a textacross groups and individuals, irrespective of their demographic origins. Admittedly, this may seem as a mundane idea todefine, but the researcher feels that this is the most basic principle behindthe subject of this paper and so finds it imperative to define, clearly, thisconcept.The reasons for this magnification aremanifold.
One reason is legitimacy. For many individualsof the networking generation, the internet is the primary source of news andany events happening around the world. For this audience the absence of anissue from social media translates into the nonexistence of the issue, becausetheir primary source of information doesn’t recognize it.Second reason is accountability. The researcherfeels that the permanence of the internet usually means that if any claim hasbeen made on social media, then the individual will be held responsible for itby someone or the other. Information once posted on the internet s foreveravailable for scrutiny of the masses and action if the other end of the bargainis not held.Continuing on with action, providing supportfor a campaign, or raising an issue, or taking any action is easiest on socialmedia.
On the instance of Paris attacks, 2017, millions of people providedtheir support on social media, through changing profile pictures on Facebook tomaking it the trending topic on Twitter. They raised money and aid and all ofthis was done through social media. Further in September 2015, Twitter launched$Cashtag, a platform from where an individual can directly donate money tocampaigns. ConclusionThis paper concludes that social media has ahuge impact on current political climate. The reasons for this are manifold-wider use of social media campaigning, reach to a wider audience,identification by the networking generation and social magnification. All of these reasons are essential to logicallycorrelate social media presence and political outcomes of elections.
The researcher feels that while empiricalevidence on the same might not be available at the moment, there is enoughlogical correspondence between the two entities. It is, therefore, important that politicalparties understand this correlation and the reasons for it before investingmoney in marketing schemes that might not be that successful. Also, it isimportant for the public masses to see that social media is not just aplayground for artificial communication and senseless memes, but instead, is aninstrumental tool that shapes the political discourse of their environment. Now it is also imperative to mention that theresearcher does not in any way claim that social media skills alone can resultin a political victory or defeat.
Only that it does have a significant effecton the political outcome. This is keeping in mind other control variables, suchas gender and age of the candidate, the demographics of the voting population,the country being considered and the population distribution of the country. The researcher has only attempted to explain aphenomenon that she believes to have an impact on the lives of a huge part ofthe world’s population in context with her own reality. Any offence ordisregard was unintentional and is regretted.
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