Use Abuse of SM in the Elections-A Study of Bihar Assembly Election 2020

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Institute for Governance, Policies & Politics in collaboration with Social Media Matters
Social media has become an inseparable part of our social life. Despite being a phenomenon that is hardly a decade old has marked its imprint in all aspects of our lives; Be it the public, or the private, the social, the political. With its unmatched capacity to rich out, this has become one of the most crucial vehicles of mass communication in today’s order.

Politics, being one of the most alive and contested fields of interpersonal communication, is easily discernible to map the possible reasons behind the use of social media by the political parties and their propaganda setups. In a thin duration of time, social media strategies have become instrumental to the campaign strategies of all the mainstream political parties in India, and outside. Political parties have started hiring professionals to take care of their social media presence. ‘Status messages’ of important persons have become as authentic as statements made in press conferences.

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On the other hand, on the demand side of it, the ever-decreasing price of internet data, accompanied by the enhanced affordability of devices like tablets and smartphones, the demand for social media presence has swelled exponentially. This multitude of an incessant supply of contents, made available in a varied spectrum of formats, has created an insatiable desire for content consumption and public scrutiny, to the extent that any miscalculated step may cause irreparable damage to the public image of a political personality. Another very important and concurrent aspect of social media and politics is the power of social media to sway people’s minds in favour of one person or party through its covert campaigns and strategies. This aspect has been the point of contention in recent times from the presidential elections of 2016 in the US to local elections in many parts of the underdeveloped world. This aspect has given social media a status of ‘necessary evil’ in today’s world driven by big tech and new communication. Bihar being the state which has been called as cradle of democracy because of its ancient historical linkages to the Lichchvi Ganarajya, is very important in this journey of democracy. The tech has now been abused to undermine democracy and this is happening everywhere in the everyday life of each one of us. This aspect of big tech and social media needs to scrutinised and checked. The intensity of this matter has increased manifold in these pandemic times when things are moving online very fast. Even in small towns and villages, online activities are becoming possible and people are adapting to them.

In the context of the ongoing lockdown caused by the ongoing pandemic, the impact of social media has multiplied.

This year Bihar Vidhan Sabha election is scheduled to be held during October-November. In this backdrop, it has become interesting to see the probable and possible expanded role of social media that it would play in this election. One of the major parties has already held its virtual rally eyeing this forthcoming election in Bihar.

It may be argued that a virtual rally may not necessarily fall under the category of social media, in watertight definition. But in a larger perspective, it gives us a vantage point where we can look into this shift in the patterns of electioneering in India, which, hitherto was strictly human interaction intensive, but has opened up itself to considerably greater incorporation of virtual alternatives.

Observers, both from the fields of electoral strategies and social media usage, alike, have started arguing that the upcoming Bihar Vidhan Sabha Election is going to be a watershed moment in the history of electioneering in India, because of the intensity of use of social media in it. Some of the experts have gone to the extent of claiming that this election would be the first of its kind that would be contested over social media. At the same time, it is important to take care of the fact that in recent years, even with the limited use of social media in electioneering and propaganda, we have been subjected to experience several cases of abuse of these media. Because of its decentralised nature and amorphous character, it often becomes near impossible to find the source of an information. Because of this characteristic, social media has been extensively used to spread fake news, misinformation, politically tailored version of incidents, and hate speech in India and elsewhere. Capitalising on the lack of source traceability, the life span, speed, and longevity of hate campaigns, rumours, have expounded astronomically, while culpability for perpetration has dwindled at an inversely proportional rate. Besides, in a country like India, the question of the digital divide remains a burning question. According to an estimate cited by Statista, by 2022, India is expected to have 44.2 Crore (442 million) smartphone users. This shows that almost half the population of India is left beyond the scope of the digital rich.

Despite the crosscurrents of all these arguments, social media is certainly going to have a much larger imprint on the upcoming Vidhan Sabha Election in Bihar. We take this opportunity to test the possibility, viability, veracity, and authenticity of these arguments.
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