Digital revolution in Indian politics: How BJP used social media
6 mins read

Digital revolution in Indian politics: How BJP used social media

The emergence of digital media-social media, mobile journalism, YouTube etc. has changed the political profile in India, with social media platforms becoming the new battlefield for election campaigns. This tectonic shift has been particularly evident in the post-2014 period, as political parties have adapted their strategies to capitalize on the growing influence of digital platforms. Of these parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has proven to be the most successful in harnessing the power of social media to connect with voters and shape public opinion, while the Congress-led opposition—if one can call it that—has Maintained grip. Space in establishing narrative and discourse, even at the cost of spreading fake news and running disinformation campaigns.

Political parties have invested heavily in building a strong social media presence, with dedicated teams working to create and disseminate content on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and WhatsApp. This approach has allowed these parties, especially the leading BJP, to bypass traditional media channels and connect directly with voters, especially the young, tech-savvy demographic. This may have thrown the so-called mainstream out of the water!

The core of BJP's digital dominance has been the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His personal brand and massive social media following have played a vital role in driving the party's online story. His direct communication style and ability to connect with voters through platforms like X has set him apart from other political leaders and helped establish a sense of trust and authenticity.

The Modi-led BJP has also been effective in leveraging data analytics and targeted advertising to reach out to specific voter segments. By observing social media trends and user behavior patterns, the party has been able to tailor its messaging and reach with different constituencies. This data-driven approach has given the BJP a significant advantage in mobilizing supporters and influencing undecided voters.

While the BJP has set the benchmark for digital campaigning in India, many parties from regional to national have also recognized the importance of adopting the new media landscape. The Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, now weak and faltering, has made efforts to strengthen its social media presence and connect with voters online. However, the party has struggled to match the BJP's coherence and effectiveness in its digital strategy. Regional parties have also adopted digital media to varying degrees, using platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp to connect with local constituencies and spread their messages. These parties have often focused on issues specific to their regions, and they have used social media to mobilize support and challenge the national narrative.

The rise of digital media in Indian politics is not without challenges and concerns. The spread of misinformation and fake news has become a major issue on social media platforms, with political parties and their supporters often accused of propagating false or misleading content to influence public opinion.

Do you remember the case where the former national spokesperson had to endure harassment till he disappeared from public life? It started with a doctored video shared by Mohammed Zubair, who is known for his history of provocative rhetoric and inciting tensions. That rebellious zeal led to the loss of at least six innocent Hindu lives at the hands of fanatical and fundamentalist Islamists.

The use of social media for political campaigning and targeting specific voter groups has also raised questions about the fairness and transparency of digital campaigns. The lack of effective regulation and opaqueness of online advertising has made it difficult to hold parties accountable for their digital activities. This was the infamous case of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which was exploited by the Indian National Congress to access the private information of millions of Facebook users without their consent. Furthermore, the increasing polarization and echo chambers created by social media algorithms have raised concerns about their impact on democratic discussion. The tendency of users to interact with content that confirms their pre-existing beliefs has hindered the visibility of diverse viewpoints and intensified the political climate.

As India prepares for elections in 2024 and beyond, digital media will play an important role in politics. Political parties will continue to refine their digital strategies and invest in new technologies to gain an edge over their competitors. However, it is important for all stakeholders—parties, platforms, regulators, and citizens—to work together to address the challenges posed by digital media in politics.

We must make efforts to combat misinformation, increase transparency in online campaigning, and foster more inclusive and constructive political discussion. It is time we reclaim our digital space, as we cannot allow third party individuals or agencies to have a sordid history of spreading misinformation and defaming people of a particular ideology under the guise of facts . Checking!

The case of former BJP national spokesperson Nupur Sharma is an excellent case to study. The current government should focus on strengthening its efforts in factually rejecting misinformation and disinformation campaigns – whether domestic or part of the “international toolkit” – first and foremost.

BJP's digital dominance has set a new benchmark for election campaigns with its intuitive and innovative content and the official handle of the party, its leaders and especially PM Modi claims to have the highest reach. As India pursues this digital transformation, it is essential to balance the benefits of increased political participation with the need to protect the integrity and fairness of the democratic process. India can ensure that the power of social media enhances rather than undermines democracy by promoting digital literacy, encouraging responsible online behavior and strengthening regulations.

The 2024 elections will be a crucial test for the maturity and resilience of India's digital political ecosystem. Lessons learned from the past decade will shape future strategies and discourse as parties adapt to the ever-evolving digital landscape. Ultimately, the success of India's democracy in the digital age will depend on the collective efforts of all stakeholders to harness the potential of social media while minimizing its risks.

Yuvraj Pokharna is an independent journalist and columnist. He tweets from @iyuvrajpoharna. Here's the link to Yuvraj's official WhatsApp channel: The views expressed in the above excerpt are personal and entirely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of News18.

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