Media Has Newfound Role in Politicsby Opinion Express March 30, 2019 0 comments
Digital platforms hold immense power to transform collective thinking, this in light of the elections that are around the corner. Voters must make their decisions wisely. After the radio, newspaper, magazine and television, it is the internet that has reshaped the way a piece of information or news is delivered to the public. Today, people are internet-savvy and believe in two-way communication than merely devouring a news piece or a development of national interest as mute spectators. Indian society has witnessed unprecedented growth in social media usage with several platforms now helping the people stay connected and also promoting vital exchange of information. India has had a record-breaking number of Facebook users (possibly the highest in the world). Statistic show that the number of Facebook users in India stood at 300 million in January 2019. The US was at the number two position with 210 million users. This pretty much sums up how social media has become an indispensable part of people’s lives.
Speaking about the political realm, where public opinion holds the key, the advent of social media has been a boon for netizens, isolating the informational, constructive interaction and archival aspects from the incongruities that are invariably a part and parcel of the game. One can’t really do much about them. The current age is of digitalisation and it is almost inevitable for election campaigns to not be drawn to social media that apparently offers a tempting platform as it lets the leaders be heard and their presence be felt among the masses and classes. Social media also provides for a vital network, influential for holding relevant discussions on the political narrative of our country. In the political sphere, social media influences public opinion and provides credible platforms to take up critical matters for scrutiny. These issues usually pertain to current affairs, policy changes or newest developments that can spark debate.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections pioneered the first-use of social media as a major campaigning tool that not only drew eyeballs but also kept the public glued through frequent updates. Apart from assaying the role of providing information to the public, social media has several ills associated with it, talking specifically about election campaigning. Alternatively, the threat of fake news and tailored content to mislead the voters looms large. Only recently we saw the whistle-blowing on fake news with campaigns such as #ShutTheFakeUp that effectively cornered issues such as unemployment, which the ruling Government has failed to take ownership of. Social media plays an important role in wooing the young and first-time voters by inspiring and motivating them to exercise their right to vote. Peer recommendations play a crucial role and the youth often look up to social media influencers to decide whom they must vote for.
Ideally, social media must be used to educate the people to vote in an unbiased manner. It must also highlight the key issues that are worthy of an intelligent discussion (paving the way for constructive solutions) without prompting the people to resort to mud-slinging. Further, it must provide a smooth bridge between public and political machinery, which is crucial in a democracy. It must offer a platform that helps politicians nurture strong bonds with their voters. Today, social media users exhibit a clear level of involvement in political affairs, particularly elections, and the public is no longer far removed from day-to-day activities of their leaders. On the contrary, they are much better equipped to make informed choices than ever before.
Elections are inevitable in any democracy and should happen the way the chief electoral machinery prescribes. No room should be provided to vested interests to exploit the enormous reach of social media to spread false propaganda. The Election Commission’s recent move, where it asked the digital media to adhere to the code of conduct, is welcome but much more needs to be done. A need arises for a regulatory authority to monitor and to be at speed with the circulation of fabricated stories with a serious distortion of facts from incredulous sources or any activity that happens with the intent of spewing venom in the minds of gullible citizens. With little focus on prudent behaviour and the use of good social media etiquette, the youth or the future face of our country can be motivated to exercise their right of franchise. Political parties must adhere to code of conduct and have to bear in mind the larger interest of the nation when they post on social media. Technological advancements have done their job of bridging the gap between people and cutting through geographical boundaries. It is in our hands to do our job by using end-products in a beneficial manner ie, with keeping in mind the larger interest of the society.
(The writer is a political strategist and is director of a digital company)
Writer: Naresh Arora