What 100 days of social media can tell us about India’s election


Children walk past an Indian voter awareness mural in Mumbai on April 16, 2014. The sixth phase of India's national elections are scheduled for April 17, when residents of several Indian states will go to the polls. India's marathon multi-phased election kicked off April 7 and will end on May 12 when hundreds of millions will have cast their ballots. INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images

The sheer scale of the Indian elections we're in the middle of is dazzling, with 815 million people eligible to vote. Of that figure, some 100 million people are said to be voting for the first time.

Many of those young, first time voters are also users of services such as Twitter and Facebook. In fact, services like these are said to be such an important factor in the election that CNN even dubbed it "India's first social media election."

So what is social media saying about this election? Simplify360, a social media analytics firm based in India, recently crunched the numbers on 100 days of Indian social media (between Jan. 1 and April 9) and released a full report. Two findings from the report are particularly interesting.

Corruption is the major issue online


(Simplify360)

The two biggest names – Modi and Gandhi – are not the most talked about on social media


(Simplify360)

There's an important caveat to note here: Far from everyone in India is an Internet user, let alone a social media user. In 2012, the World Bank estimated that 12.6 percent of India's population was on the Internet, and Facebook recently reported it had 100 million users in India – a huge number for sure, but far short of 815 million.

As such, India's social media users probably lean in a particular way – young, tech-savvy, urban, and educated. For these people, corruption is a big deal. For rural workers or those with lower incomes, inflation may well be a bigger issue (hence why the price of an onion has been such a major political issue over the past few years).

That point also helps explain why Arvind Kejriwal dominates his better known rivals, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, online. Kejriwal, a former civil servant, formed the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man Party) less than two years, but the party has been able to capitalize on an anti-corruption platform (Kejriwal himself won praise for refusing official cars with flashing red-beacon lights and a government bungalow).

Rival parties, in particular the Congress Party, have struggled to keep up with the social media momentum of the Common Man Party, which was in many ways born of an online anti-corruption drive. And Kejriwal's domination of the conversation isn't limited to social media: Live Mint recently reported that 28 percent of prime time coverage on top news channels went to Kejriwal, as opposed to 24 percent for Modi and less than 5 percent for Gandhi.

That momentum might explain some of the cruder attempts at social media campaigning we're seeing right now. For example, at the time of writing the Twitter account for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be sending a Vine to every single user who mentions "Modi" on the service:

There's clearly a limit to how much effect social media can have this election: Despite the Common Man Party's social media impetus, BJP has been predicted to win a small majority in India's parliament.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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