INDIA: Elections Go Online, But Will It Matter?

AUSTIN SZABO WRITES – If you live in India, expect a “friend request” from your local representative.

The upcoming 2014 election will see an explosion of social media campaigning, according to The Times of India. India’s Bharatiya Janata and Congress parties are scrambling  to woo internet users. From local politicians getting in touch directly with their constituents, to party leaders attracting legions of followers on Twitter (Narendra Modi, BJP leader, has 1.6 million), the upcoming election season will be marked by social media campaigning.

Will it be a game changer? According to The National, the respected daily out of Abu Dhabi, India has 82 million Facebook users and 20 million Twitter users, and an electorate of 714 million. With such a small minority of voters online, some doubt how much online campaigning can change election results. “I think it can be a game influencer, but I wouldn’t go beyond that at this stage,” said Shashi Tharoor, star politician of the Congress party (with 2 million followers), to Reuters.

The relatively small amount of internet users in India can still potentially swing the election, however. The Index on Censorship reports that 160 seats out of the 543 in India have enough internet users to swing the vote. These “high impact” districts could help a technologically savvy party gain seats in parliament.

All of this assumes young internet users will care about either party. Not only are  BJP and Congress losing voters to third parties in early polls, but many online voters may be too apathetic to vote. With issues including access to clean water, rape, relations with Pakistan, and Maoists effecting those with little access to the internet, concentrating purely on middle class internet users will not help national parties or the average Indian. While using social media will undoubtedly help politicians in 2014, focusing on the issues will serve them better.

After all, you can still ignore your representative’s friendly messages.

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