The last elections might have been the last time when we ponder over how the internet phenomenon and its social media platforms affect national politics, because the next time around, the internet might have well become such an integral part of the election process that we probably won’t even bat an eyelid. Throughout history we have seen how technological innovations can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives and economy, which is always followed by political transformation. And today, the internet has become that transforming force. It is changing everything, right from our behavior to our language – and so it is obvious that it will also change our politics.
Why the Internet is a Powerful Political Tool for the Masses
Back in 350 B.C., Aristotle had pointed out that man is by nature a ‘political animal’. Today, your average political animal has easy access to the largest repository of information than at any other point in our history, thanks to the internet. Moreover, the rate at which information is dissipated through the internet is ‘near immediate’. However, what makes the internet a powerful political tool is not just the vast amount of information or the high speed at which information spreads through the web – the internet and various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube create an opportunity for an individual with internet access to respond to information immediately, regardless of the fact that whether the information is received offline or online – and this is what changes the political scenario. The availability of vast amounts of information, the high speed of information dissemination and the capability to communicate with wider audiences is what is changing the way the political universe operates.
Earlier, the major sources of political information used to be print media and television. Political candidates would and still do spend millions to get air time ahead of elections – they controlled whatever information they wanted to release to the public – favorable news items would be highlighted, while the unpleasant ones would be chucked out. The public would only rely on these TV commercials and articles to form an idea about who to vote for – it was more “Candidate-Centric”. That changes with the internet. Websites, blogs, comments on social media and other internet platforms are far more difficult for political candidates to control.
Political parties have also jumped onto the internet bandwagon to further their campaigns, as was demonstrated during the last elections in India. A recent report pegged the total spend of political parties on digital publicity and marketing at a staggering Rs 400-500 crores. These politicos have realized the fact that of the total 814 million Indians eligible to vote, over 200 million have access to the internet, including 168.7 million active on social media platforms – that’s too large a vote bank, and a very vocal one at that to leave out. While they may have been spending big bucks to woo the public over the internet, the web still remains a powerful tool for the public. Here’s why:
- The internet and social media channels allow for more citizen engagement on various issues at the national, state as well as the local level.
- The internet provides increased access to better information on political candidates, their position on policies, and governmental decisions that have an impact on all citizens.
- It also offers real time information on the actions taken by political leaders, and offers the public an opportunity to air their opinions.
- The internet also creates a pressure on bodies responsible for informing the public to generate and offer high quality information - right from advocacy groups to news organizations
Also, more and more people are now turning to the internet and social networking platforms to discuss political issues. More importantly, the web allows for availability of more information for consumption by the average citizen – it offers more individualized information, as dictated by the individual, and it does so to a far greater extent as compared to other media channels. And when citizens are provided information about politics, government and policies, it empowers the public to actively participate in civic life.
The Internet as a Political Tool – Where India Stands
With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and digital technology, the internet has proved itself to be a powerful political tool in India for both the citizens and political leaders, particularly during the recent general elections. Let’s take a look at some figures:
- According to the Internetlivestats.com, currently there are 243 million internet users in India, and they are rising at a growth rate of 14%.
- There are about 168.7 million social network users in India according to a report by Statista.com. This figure is expected to rise to 282.9 million users by 2017.
We are also witnessing more and more politicians going online, with public profiles on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They seem to have recognized the power that this medium wields. More importantly, these politicos now seem to be within the reach of the public – no need to wait in queues, grease palms to get an appointment to talk to them, with just a click we can air our thoughts on what a leader says or does – the internet has indeed empowered the public.
Elaborating on the impact of the internet on politics and our politicians, Google India's Industry Head Gaurav Kapur said, “With over 200 million internet users in the country, internet as a medium has found its own space in the political parties' media spends. Leading national parties are actively engaging users through digital medium. Different parties are adopting different strategies and digital spending varies from 5 per cent to 10 per cent of their total advertising budgets. The social media network is also being used by parties looking to sign up volunteers and increasing party membership.”
It is quite obvious that the political scenario in India has been altered forever with the internet coming into the picture, and the next elections will be actually fought over the internet. While leaders and politicians are using it to further their political agenda and gather followers and votes, the internet and social media has created a platform for direct interaction and exchange of views and opinions, which is essential for empowering citizens and improving the state of the nation.
Power to the People @ RankMyLeader.com
The internet and social media platforms have become a major game changer in the political scenario – politicians cannot choose to ignore it, as is evident from their online presence and online campaigns.
However, we are taking things to the next level at RankMyLeader.com – a dedicated platform for rating leaders and politicians based on every day news stories.
We website offers the public a chance to vote for or against leaders every day based on their actions, policies, speeches, tweets etc. and they can do so in real time, without having to wait for the next five years. While earlier the internet allowed citizens to voice their opinion about politics, there was a lack of a metric to help gauge the performance of politicians. RankMyLeader.com changes that – it offers a well-defined system for rating leaders in real time, thereby giving more Power to the People.
Join us!!! and be a part of the Revolution.