The country has been sucked into the whirlpool of elections as the year 2013 draws to a close. The recently concluded elections in some states has provided a ‘food for thought’ for those who were skeptical of the youth power, capable of creating a ‘Youthquake’. The election process for selecting the leaders has undergone a sea change since the time India first went to polls in Oct 1951. India will go to polls the 16th time, in 2014.
Gone are the times of loudhailers, posters and other traditional methods of electioneering at least in the cities. The world has become flat and almost without boundaries when it comes to the flow of information. The power of communications and information technology was witnessed in the recent years with the overthrow of governments in the wake of ‘Arab Spring’. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, saw change of regime. The issues like repressive governments, disparities and years of deprivation were fanned with social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, You tube and others. They united the protestors and maintained the pressure on regimes till the dispensation was toppled. A few years back, it would have been impossible to imagine a protest being ignited and kept alive just with the power of internet. One still recollects images of mass killings on Tinanmen Square in Beijing in student uprising in 1989 in an era of no public internet.
India is the biggest democracy having more people than entire USA and Europe. In the United States, young voters aged 18 to 29 make up 21% of the voting population. Over the past several election cycles, youth voting has been on the rise. Last election showed a higher percentage of college-aged voters going to the polls to elect their next president than in any previous election. In India 65% of the population is less than 35 years old. First time voters in the age group 18-23 years will constitute almost 14% of the entire electorate.
College students have little time to sit in front of a television screen. They now have access to unlimited information via computer and smartphones; being able to get every question answered at a rapid pace. Social media are most useful when they are integrated into other things like getting people out to vote, getting face-to-face contact. Television is an alternative to that.
For college students today, the way to experience elections is: opening up your Facebook page and finding yourself immediately bombarded with election statuses and postings. This means that with just a click of a button, students and young generation can gather all the information they need to be informed about a candidate. They can be as interactive or inactive as they wish. They can enter forums and discussion through social networking sites and voice their opinion freely and immediately. For the forthcoming elections, it will be a daunting task for political consultants to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to constantly changing popular social media sites. If they don’t act fast, they could easily appear “out of touch” with youngsters – and even risk losing their vote. The first step to staying ahead of the curve is to understand the way in which college students and young voters experienced the past assembly election, whether from the click of a Twitter update, an Instagram snapshot, the post of a Facebook status, or a scroll through a blog. While the advent of television brought the election campaigns ‘live’ in the drawing rooms , the social networking sites have made these interactive sessions with voters a reality.
India has more than 240 million active internet users way ahead of USA only second to China which has more than 300 million users. They could swing the result of an election significantly .In social media a key rule is that “you don’t trust people you don’t know,” when someone like Amitabh Bachchan who has a high approval rating, posts on Twitter, there is “a perceived honesty” that will make a voter trust what they have to say.
Social media lures college students to the polls. Individuals stay connected to people they know through social networking sites: there is more trust in postings of friends and family on social networking sites than listening to a two-dimensional figure on the television. To be successful in the next election, political commentators believe strategists will have to identify the delicate line between the proper amount of information and over-saturation – and use that line to their advantage. The new age phenomena of social mobile apps are here to stay and apps like ‘We Chat’, Facebook, Twitter, will make a big impact in the forthcoming elections.
(This post is submitted as a part of Indiblogger, ‘We Chat’ contest "Indian General Elections 2014 with social mobile apps")
PS I. Image kind courtesy Google
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