If I had written this blog a few weeks ago, it would have been premature and only half the story. That says a lot about how fast Indian media is transforming. In social media, particularly, the recent Delhi elections were a storyteller’s delight.
The victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in February wasn’t just the most telling litmus test of anti-incumbency in India’s capital, it also played out as a compelling example of engagement and persuasion via social media. Much of the election – or should we say the battle of perceptions – was fought on Facebook and Twitter.
Delhi had 13 million registered voters this election, out of whom 12.15 million were online. This made digital platforms the largest canvassing tool for parties and the most effective engagement tool for party workers. What’s more, it didn’t eat into their campaign budgets like traditional media did. This is unprecedented in Indian state elections and is certainly a game-changer.
The average voter, rooting for freedom of expression offline, has tasted democratization of expression through Facebook, Twitter and blogs – even trolls. The canvassing loudspeakers, battling it out at high decibel levels in each Delhi mohalla, were hijacked, this time by hashtag wars fought by party followers on social media platforms.
And most seasoned political contenders, including the chief ministerial candidates, were all active on social media, in varying degrees. The political start-up AAP combined its street power with seamless social-media campaigning. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stuck to its conventional and mammoth rallies and advertising, keeping mainly to the periphery of the social-media battlefield. Meanwhile, Indian National Congress (INC) was like a ringside viewer, both offline and on.
In terms of post engagement by the community, which is a great way to judge the number of conversations happening online, AAP led with 27.8 million engagements, BJP was at 8.4 million and INC at 5.1 million, according to Facebook data. Those are telling figures.
Meanwhile, both electronic and print media were sharing this feedback with their viewers and readers, through the seamless integration of user-generated content into mainstream content. Or, in other words, people telling it the way it is, mostly without filtering or moderation, apart from checks for profanity and personal attacks.
With this, the loop has finally been closed on a 360-degree newsroom, where television, print, digital news has been cemented and layered with user-generated content through tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, videos, Instagram photos and much more.
Media has changed from being a monologue to a dialogue – or even more, an open debate, with personal opinions featuring in mainstream media, opinions that are unfettered and uncensored, regulated only by norms of civic decency.
In that way, social media is a natural progression for a democracy such as India. The intent has always been such, but the tools have only come into being. With social media platforms, Indians are voicing their opinions with a vengeance.
In all this, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram seem to have emerged and are being accepted as the fifth pillar of media after print, TV, digital and radio. More importantly, it is gradually being accepted as the fifth estate (if media was the fourth estate of a state or democracy).
But it’s not just about news, there’s also public advocacy. In the past few months, following close behind YouTube, video roll-outs from both Facebook and Twitter have enabled users to share their video clips.
This has made the social platforms a powerful and intimidating tool for public advocacy. The public utilities sleeping over a dirty street corner, a child being abused by a tutor, a policeman asking for bribe, a politician breaking rules, a traffic cop riding without a helmet – all this and more is finding its way into mainstream broadcasts, captured through the lens of an amateur camera in one of the hand-held devices of a discerning citizen.
In a nutshell, we are at a new cusp of media democratization, second only to the privatization wave that engulfed India a few years ago. For the very first time, news is getting predominance over the medium used to convey it. An average citizen has come to have the power to turn the tide through public deliberations and conventional media is opening up to give users a platform for expression.
The good news about social media is that, finally, the message has become more important than the messenger. I suspect it may mean empowerment for all who engage with it.
Author: Prerna Kaul Mishra, Editor, Content Services & Social Media, India Today Group, India
Image: A woman casts her vote inside a polling booth during the state assembly election in the old quarters of Delhi December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood