At 3 p.m. on August 17, two posts appeared on the India Against Corruption movement's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/IndiaACor, and a tweet on its Twitter handle, www.twitter.com/janlokpal, asking people to assemble at India Gate at 4 p.m. and then march to Jantar Mantar.
Within an hour, the IndiaACor posts saw over 500 comments and 2,000 “likes”, besides several re-tweets on Twitter by netizens. Television channels picked up the posts and tweets and flashed alerts of the march. By 4-30 p.m., a large crowd numbering over 15,000 had massed up at India Gate, signalling the transformation of the Anna Hazare-led struggle into a mass movement.
Even as the demand for the Jan Lokpal Bill grew in strength on the ground outside Tihar Central Jail and from Ramlila Maidan here, in Mumbai, in Guwahati, and other cities and towns across India, a crucial ingredient of the India Against Corruption movement's success has been its use of social networking as a tool for mass mobilisation and rapid information dissemination through the Internet.
On every day since August 16, when Anna Hazare was arrested and sent to Tihar Jail, the IndiaACor Facebook page, the @janlokpal Twitter handle, and affiliate IAC pages from several cities across the globe have relayed Anna's messages, flashed calls to assemble in protest at short notice, and beamed near-live visuals and commentary from protest venues. In turn, this had a “multiplier” effect through the use of social networking capabilities that Facebook and Twitter have fashioned.
For example, when Facebook users who follow the IndiaACor page, comments on a post or hits the “like” button on the posts there, they automatically feed this action to a few dozens or several hundreds of their Facebook friends depending on how many friends each user has, who get alerted on their FB News Feed. Similarly, the tweets from the janlokpal twitter handle get posted to the nearly 75,000 followers it has, who relay these tweets to several others through re-tweeting.
TV news channels which have picked up these tweets and Facebook posts, in turn flash scrolling tickers, alerting viewers on activities planned in various cities reaching a far wider audience thereby generated an exponential impact, says administrator of the IndiaACor page and janlokpal handle, Shivendra Singh Chauhan, a Delhi-based journalist.
“For the past nine days, I have been posting and tweeting continuously. If I am not on my laptop, I am constantly on my mobile phone using Facebook and Twitter. We have over 400 city coordinators across India and the world who pass on to me alerts of activities in the respective places which I then post or tweet,” says Shivendra.
Though IAC began by sending bulk SMS messages to people, Shivendra says 1.5 crore people have signed up for the SMS messages which evidently has made it an unwieldy and money-consuming exercise, though an effective one. “Now we post alerts on Facebook, and ask our committed followers to SMS their friends,” he says.
Faced with a paucity of volunteers for the Jan Lokpal “referendum” at Chandni Chowk last month, Arvind Kejriwal asked Shivendra to post an appeal on Facebook, which immediately resulted in a flood of youngsters turning up, who took the referendum forms to all corners of the constituency.
The IndiaACor page with nearly 4.5 lakh fans is also one of the fastest growing Facebook pages. On Tuesday, over a seven-hour period between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m, 30 posts on the page, received over 5,000 comments with at least ten times that number, hitting the “Like” button. On Twitter too, hash tags and words like #janlokpal, “Ramlila Maidan”, “Anna Hazare” besides personalities like Arundhati Roy and Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari who have commented on the recent developments related to the Bill, are among the top trending topics for the last several days.