Elections 2014 -- The online dimension

May 02, 2014, 07:53 IST | Vanita Kohli-Khandekar

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a comedy show on HBO in the US. The host, Oliver, did a hilarious take on American media’s complete ignorance of the Indian elections in his show, well, last week

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a comedy show on HBO in the US. The host, Oliver, did a hilarious take on American media’s complete ignorance of the Indian elections in his show, well, last week. He made fun of Fox, CNN, American politicians and Arnab Goswami. Check it out on YouTube if you want a eight-and-a-half minute break on a dreary day. It had got over 7,63,000 views by the time I went to see it.

Selfies galore: The internet has worked wonders at getting people more involved in the elections. Pic/Rane Ashish

Go to BuzzFeed to see what they are saying about young voters in India and their obsession with post-ballot selfies. It is a visual story that shows people posing in every conceivable way with their inked index fingers. It tells you of a youth that is very involved and full of hope. It wants change and it believes that voting will help bring it about. (Of course now with the Narendra Modi selfie, you cannot only accuse young people of wanting to show off their inked finger.)

TO THE NEW, a digital services network has been analysing the digital conversation this election across blogs, news sites, forums and of course social media. In the last week of April it tabulated over 6,67,000 conversations. These could have been tweets, blogposts or news items among other things, says TO THE NEW’s latest report.

If there is one thing that stands out in this election, it is the online noise. The arguments, debates, canvassing and fun that most people have on their smartphones, iPads and laptops has added another dimension to the choices that 815 million Indian voters will make this time. More so than any of the earlier ones. It is also one of the dozens of reasons why average voter turnouts across the country have risen from 58 per cent in the last two elections to 68 per cent in this one. Note that it is just one of the reasons. There are others, such as rising literacy and awareness, younger more demanding voters and the ease of voting with the electronic ballot. But you simply cannot ignore online this time around.

It stands out and does so wonderfully well. One reason is of course its texture. It is so much easier for audiences to get involved from their Facebook or Twitter account, through their handheld or laptop devices, than to react while watching a discussion on TV or reading something in the paper. This was true earlier too but this time the penetration is at another level.

In 2009 there were barely 70 million Indian users on the internet. Today there are over 250 million, across devices which make access to anything on the go faster and easier. While waiting for someone or something, how many times
have you eschewed reading in favour of checking your Facebook wall or the headlines on your Twitter feed.

This 250 million compares very well with TV, which reaches 740 million people or print that reaches out to 353 million people. The rise of TV and newspapers through the last decade and the awareness they spread helped in part to increase voting turnouts in the last two elections. This time, online has added a happy, chatty dimension to the process. And if you thought online is for young people who wouldn’t be interested in serious things, here is a fact: Within three days of their release, the manifestoes of the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Aam Aadmi Party were discussed or mentioned over 1.55 lakh times, says another TO THE NEW report. So a lot of it is not just mindless babble.

The last reason online has worked more effectively this time is because it is dovetailing much better with offline. For instance the John Oliver show was on a cable TV channel in the US to start with and then went viral online. Ditto for many of the discussions that start in newspapers or on television and then move into cyberspace.

Here is to more elections with more media — online and offline — and to livelier discussions on where the world’s largest democracy is headed.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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