Introduction supporters of the regime decided to set aside

Introduction

On
January 17, 2001, when the Philippine President Joseph Estrada was being tried
for impeachment, the supporters of the regime decided to set aside the key
evidence implicating Estrada. Following the announcement of this decision, in a
matter of 2 hours, thousands of people had converged on Epifanio de los Santos
Avenue. The protest was organized, in part, by forwarded text messages that
read ‘Go 2 edsa. Wear blk.’. The crowd swelled and within a few days millions
of people had arrived. This massive and rapid response on the part of the
public was so alarming to the legislators that the decision was repealed and
Estrada was tried with all the evidence, resulting in his impeachment.

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According
to the dictionary, social media refers to websites and applications that enable users to create and
share content or to participate in social networking. This includes
Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, WhatsApp, text messages, YouTube and all kinds of chat
forums. Very quickly social media has become a huge part of the daily lives of
people. As of 30 June 2017, the world is experiencing an internet penetration
of over 51%, and of these people 72% use social media cites(cited from Internet
World Stats, URL: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm).

 According to Internet World Stats, the
percentage of Indian population that uses the internet has grown from 0.7% in
2001 to over 36% in 2015. This exponential growth means that more and more
people now have access to the free domain that constitutes the World Wide Web.

As
this access grows, along with grows the information that is available to people
and so, the awareness among people. With this, people have a greater chance to
interact in the public sphere. Like minded individuals are coming together with
greater ease and discussions allow for people from all demographics to present
their point of view. This allows for an enhanced ability of the masses to
undertake widespread and conducive collective action. Thus, one can say that
social media contributes to the formation of a strong public sphere and civil
society. (Shirky, C. (2011))

The
researcher believes that in today’s time, this access to social media, and as
such to the happenings of the rest of the world, has a huge impact on the
political discourse of any country. The voting age of 18 means that any person
born before 2000 will now be eligible to vote. All of these individuals who
were in their early adolescence in the 2000-2010 period will have, hence, grown
up in an environment that was constantly being effected by the internet. The
researcher will henceforth refer to these individuals as the networking
generation, which includes individuals born from 1990 to 2000, on a broad
level.

The
researcher believes that the networking generation had access to the internet
very early in life, and so has habitually adopted it as a fundamental part of
their 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 professional
needs. This constant interaction between these individuals and the world wide
web has resulted in the formation of an organic society of people from all over
the world, sharing information in the form of text, images, videos and audios
about all topics, ranging from art, humanities, discoveries, mathematics,
literature and most importantly, current events. It is much easier now to know
what 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 of
politics, where generally a serving term is of 5 years (on an average), this
just amounts to 6 terms.

As
a result, popular opinion on Twitter, often translates into popular opinion on
ground. If a political candidate is able to influence this networking
generation, then it translates into a chain reaction of retweets and likes and
shares, which further transmits his message to the most obscure of places on the
map and allows him to reach audience that wasn’t even being originally
targeted.

Because
of this, in recent times, the use of social media as a campaign front has
increased tremendously. Voters believe that social media interaction with a
political candidate makes them feel more connected to the candidate, while also
allowing them to hold them accountable to their word. Social media allows them
to keep up better with the political discourse, the controversies and all kinds
of news surrounding their nation’s political climate. The ease with social
media mobilization is possible is another reason that political campaign
expenditures have seen a rise in spending on digital campaigning. Narendra Modi
was the first politician in India to employ social media as a campaigning
platform. Obama also indulged in a lot of social media campaigning with his
‘Ask Me Anything’ thread on reddit. Donald Trump, most recently, has emerged as
another political figure to have successfully used social media as a game
changer in the 2016 US Presidential Elections.

The
researcher, hence, believes that social media is one of the major driving
forces in the political sphere because of increased number of political
campaigns and the magnification provided by social media.

Now
to 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 US
Presidential Elections

In
the 2016 elections, Donald Trump secured 46.1% of the votes compared to 48% votes
secured by Hillary Clinton, and won by winning 304 electoral votes. On social
media sites, he had 21 million likes on Facebook, and over 46.8 million
followers on Twitter. Clinton on the other hand, had 10 million likes on
Facebook and about 21.4 million followers on Twitter. The stark difference
between the social media presence of the two is easily discernible. Easy to
say, Trump won over social media with his lack of finesse, immediate updates
throughout the campaign, transparent comments on the political climate and
affinity to risks. Clinton, though, suffered from a cold and calculated social
media presence which was late to take up the social media trend (her social
media activity only became political after the third debate) and seemed too carefully
crafted to readers to be of any impact. It is important to voters to be able to
connect with their candidates before voting for them. It was easier for them to
connect with the laid back attitude of Trump than with the cultured social
media presence of Clinton.

Another
very important factor in this election, the researcher feels, has been the fact
that Trump is a businessman. He runs several businesses, catering to different
audiences and so understands their demands much better than Clinton. Trump’s more
active and more engaging following assured him that his tweets, even if they
were more disliked than appreciated, would be talked about in a huge umbrella
of consumers.

Google
trends further shows a clear interest in Trump over Clinton in the campaigning
period, with trump being mentioned 5 times more than Clinton. (Refer to
appendix for images.) Overall, this interest in Trump accelerated his online
marketing to a great degree.

Thus,
this publicity and curiosity about Trump, ultimately, resulted in his victory
over Clinton.

Narendra Modi and the 2014 Indian General
Elections

Narendra
Modi is credited as the first Indian political figure to use social media as a
platform for campaigning in his run for the Prime Minister’s office. His
campaign 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 that
would be supported by a growing economy and a corruption free state.

But
one of the differentiating points of his campaign was the social media
campaign. It was a fresh outlook on segregating audiences. While older audiences
are easily gathered through television programs and speeches, he understood the
fact that to reach the networking generation, he would have to approach them on
a platform that they are comfortable with. Hence, the social media campaign. He
took to Twitter and Facebook. He made frequent posts, intermittent with jokes
and anecdotes that helped him get the support of his target audience.

Even
though Rahul Gandhi had the advantage of being younger and so could have captured
this networking generation easily, his attachment to age old mechanisms lost
him this opportunity.

Google
trends shows that from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2014, Modi was mentioned
almost 7 times more than Gandhi was. Modi had 39 million Twitter followers and
his page ‘I support Narendra Modi’ and the launching of a WhatsApp number
contributed to his success on the social media front. One might argue that
being the only player on social media, Narendra Modi had an unfair advantage,
but the researcher believes that the opportunity was present to both Gandhi and
Modi, and Modi’s only advantage was realizing his opportunities before Gandhi
did.

The
WhatsApp number and the Twitter page finally allowed Modi to connect with an
audience 40 years his junior, an audience that would otherwise have been very
hard to connect with. Addition of the ‘#selfiewithmodi’ trend and making people
aware of their voting rights, this innovative approach, allowed Modi to win
over 31% votes and become the Prime Minister of India.

 

Social Magnification

Now
that we have sufficiently discussed the advantage provided to political
candidates because of social media, the researcher would like to introduce the
concept of social magnification.

Social magnification,
or socioamplifiation, as defined by
the researcher, is the increasing awareness or information about any topic in
the global social structure with each message, in the form of texts, retweets,
tweets, shares, posts, or other social media based ephemera. (Ephemera
referring to things that exist or
are used for only a short time.)

The researcher believes that in all previously
conducted researches, a missing factor to be considered had been the
magnification social media provides to any issue or topic of discussion. The
correlation between social media and political success is incomplete if one
does not account for the continuous spread of a post or a tweet or a text
across groups and individuals, irrespective of their demographic origins.

Admittedly, this may seem as a mundane idea to
define, but the researcher feels that this is the most basic principle behind
the subject of this paper and so finds it imperative to define, clearly, this
concept.

The reasons for this magnification are
manifold.

One reason is legitimacy. For many individuals
of the networking generation, the internet is the primary source of news and
any events happening around the world. For this audience the absence of an
issue from social media translates into the nonexistence of the issue, because
their primary source of information doesn’t recognize it.

Second reason is accountability. The researcher
feels that the permanence of the internet usually means that if any claim has
been made on social media, then the individual will be held responsible for it
by someone or the other. Information once posted on the internet s forever
available for scrutiny of the masses and action if the other end of the bargain
is not held.

Continuing on with action, providing support
for a campaign, or raising an issue, or taking any action is easiest on social
media. On the instance of Paris attacks, 2017, millions of people provided
their support on social media, through changing profile pictures on Facebook to
making it the trending topic on Twitter. They raised money and aid and all of
this was done through social media. Further in September 2015, Twitter launched
$Cashtag, a platform from where an individual can directly donate money to
campaigns.

 

Conclusion

This paper concludes that social media has a
huge 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 logically
correlate social media presence and political outcomes of elections.

The researcher feels that while empirical
evidence on the same might not be available at the moment, there is enough
logical correspondence between the two entities.

It is, therefore, important that political
parties understand this correlation and the reasons for it before investing
money in marketing schemes that might not be that successful. Also, it is
important for the public masses to see that social media is not just a
playground for artificial communication and senseless memes, but instead, is an
instrumental tool that shapes the political discourse of their environment.

Now it is also imperative to mention that the
researcher does not in any way claim that social media skills alone can result
in a political victory or defeat. Only that it does have a significant effect
on the political outcome. This is keeping in mind other control variables, such
as 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 a
phenomenon that she believes to have an impact on the lives of a huge part of
the world’s population in context with her own reality. Any offence or
disregard was unintentional and is regretted.

 

 

 

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