Politicians in India have discovered social media with a vengeance. After the runaway success of the initial forays of a few, and abject failure of others to control free expression, the political herd is now aspiring to graze on the green pastures of facebook and twitter. Latest to hit the news is Ashok Gehlot, the Congress Chief Minister of Rajasthan – though not for the right reasons. He has apparently gained sudden popularity on facebook, attracting over one lakh followers in one month. The bad news is that he has more followers in Istanbul than in Jaipur. One had heard of politicians buying votes, but spending money to receive virtual ‘likes’ from people who are not even part of the electorate doesn’t indicate political acumen, or even common sense. Actually, it shows a complete lack of understanding about social media per se.
Gehlot’s advocates in the Congress came up with ridiculous arguments in his defence, as usual showing an arrogant disdain for the intelligence and common sense of others. “”Mr Gehlot is known for his probity. Anyone can ‘like’ anyone across the world. There are no checks and balances on Facebook.” was the Congress spokesperson’s response. Her allegation – the BJP did the same to prop up Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, and now they are doing it to show Mr Gehlot down.
This particular allegation gives an inkling of the source of their insecurity and resulting ill conceived hare brained scheme of gaining facebook popularity the easy way. A deeper look at the facebook pages of the two dramatis personae threw up some interesting insights. (To read text on the images, please right click and open them in a new tab)
Modi’s page has 22,68,044 followers as opposed to 1,99,015 of Gehlot’s. I noticed that the former included 11 of my friends – so one can vouch for at least 12 genuine followers for Modi. So when it comes to quantity, Modi wins hands down. This does not, however, give us any idea about the quality of the followers – something that would differentiate between genuine and ‘purchased’ followers.
Below are random posts from their pages.
The two posts from Gehlot’s page have 505 and 282 likes, while 20 and 12 people have commented on them. These posts have been ‘shared’ by 44 and 15 people on their own timelines.
The post below, from Modi’s page, has 31,094 likes, 1,534 comments and 1,908 shares.
Apparently the average number of friends per facebook user is 130. Thus the post by Modi would be seen by an additional 2,48,040 people (130 friends each of the 1,908 who shared it) – more than the total number of Gehlot’s followers.
But we are still caught up in quantity – what about the quality?
The two snapshots above are from comments on the same post on Modi’s page. There is a debate happening on the prevailing trust deficit in the country, apparently in response to a query in the post. One user says, “All youngsters should first register themselves for voting. It’s very important for the youth of the country to vote for modiji……” Another asks, “Question to Modi ji – Are you perfectly satisfied with our non-transparent EVMs? Do you have any objection if the coming assembly and general elections are conducted without a paper trail.”
And what do commenters on Gehlot’s post have to say? Ranging from “nice 1″ to two occurrences of ‘Jai ho” to welcoming heart symbols, there is also and application for recruitment of homeguards. There is one person who has commented 7 times – “next cm ashok gehlot”, “Garibo ka maseeha ashok gehlot, “Rajasthan ka sher ashok gehlot” and so on. But the most interesting is a comment by someone called Andrea in the pic below – she says, “shshshhsuhajhsjhajhsshasjhs”.
Andrea’s profile (below) suggests she is an attractive young lady from Eucador! The Congress spokesperson is right – there are no barriers on facebook.
The moral of the story is that spending money to ‘buy’ followers will not create a buzz about you on social media. People like Narendra Modi (or their social media managers) have understood the simple fact that social media is all about dialogue and interactivity. No amount of faux likes or followers ultimately matter. What matters is people who believe in your message. What also matters is a two way dialogue, which prompts people to express their views, show their appreciation, and spread the word around.
People who have managed to subvert democracy are finding it difficult to fathom the truly democratic nature of social media. It might take them an election or two to figure that out.