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How Indian Political Parties Use Social Media and Tech in Quest to Sway Elections

© AFP 2023 / SANJAY KANOJIAIndian voters wait in a queue for their turn to vote at a polling station in the Naini area on the outskirts of Allahabad during the fourth phase of Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections on February 23, 2017
Indian voters wait in a queue for their turn to vote at a polling station in the Naini area on the outskirts of Allahabad during the fourth phase of Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections on February 23, 2017 - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.09.2021
Five Indian states have held elections this year as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps the world in its hold, pushing more people online. Sputnik has reached out to IT entrepreneurs and political activists to learn how technology has shaped the electoral process.
With the number of internet users in India reaching 560 million by 2021, the local political parties are seizing an opportunity to use new technology in their political campaigns.
According to the Google transparency report, political parties and affiliated groups in India have spent $9.5 million to buy 20,112 ads across the Google platform between February 2019 and 31 August 2021.
"In a short-lived electoral campaign, which lasts two months, what the political parties in the recently held state elections spent on social media could be anything between $25 million and $30 million," Kamal Tiwari, founder of TLK Info Solutions, a Digital Marketing Agency, told Sputnik.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg - and there are so many other social media pages and groups who are (directly or indirectly) promoting their contents to promote party ideology," Tiwari said. 

How does social media shape the electoral process?

With the growing internet audience and increasing web campaign spending, social media platforms can become an effective tool in consolidating voters' opinions about candidates, Delhi-based veteran journalist Abid Shah says.
“Social media gives a platform to voters to express their opinion. In traditional media, communication is one way, But the same is not true for social media. Not just leaders are communicating, but voters are also talking to each other on the virtual platform, which directly affects the subconscious mind of these people," he notes.
Election analyst Pradeep Gupta maintains in his book 'How India Votes: And What It Means' that technology is enabling voters to consolidate their opinions about a given candidate or party's odds of winning leading to a shift of support away from likely losers.
“Voters are learning how to rally behind election winners, giving them supersized mandates,” he says in his book.

Urban Vs Rural Voters

With social media deeply embedded in people's lives, one cannot deny the fact that social media can easily sway human emotions and trust. However, experts believe that its effects on urban and rural voters differ.
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Edwin Arockia, the IT coordinator of Tamil Nadu governing party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, said that the party has "planned campaigns differently for urban and rural voters".
Explaining the impact of social media on various communities, Tiwari says: "Urban voters have been using social media for a long time, at least six years. Hence, they use social media more pragmatically, such as for fact-checking."
He adds: "Rural voters easily trust the content shared through Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages. Hence, political posts stay for a long time in the memory of the rural users, which matters".
"There's a lot on the line here," says Tiwari, "but the actual effect can be seen in the numbers, and smart candidates and their teams will be integrating influencers as a key part of their marketing mix in the future."
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