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Updated: August 23, 2011 18:04 IST

Instant messages, instant activism

Deepa Kurup
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INSTANT UPDATE: Cellphone-based social media is the champion. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.
INSTANT UPDATE: Cellphone-based social media is the champion. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

Social media has been at its vibrant best in the past week

For management executive Avinash Narayan (29), his entire education on the Lokpal Bill issue and Anna Hazare's campaign has been on Twitter. The April protests intrigued him but this time round, he wanted to “do something”, he says even as he intently posts regular updates on Twitter and Facebook, bang in the thick of action at Bangalore's Freedom Park.

Indeed, social media appears to have come of age during this phase of the agitation. Used actively as a tool for mobilising support, coordinating protest rallies, creating diverse content and even raising funds, the for or against debates and lively discussions that we saw in April – particularly during the time Mr. Hazare spent at Tihar – were replaced by coordinated action, more along the lines of 'where do we meet', 'what do we bring' and 'how do we spread the word'.

A quick search on Facebook for Bangalore-related pages shows several locality-wise groups that have come up in the past week – some anchored by members of the India Against Corruption (IAC) and others random citizens – and Anna Hazare, Lokpal and corruption-related hash-tags have been trending locally, and nationally, on Twitter.

@janlokpal, the official Twitter handle of the IAC campaign, has 70,790 followers and has been posting minute-by-minute updates right from Mr. Hazare's arrest to every fresh development in the story. As of Monday, 438,867 people are 'friends' of the official IAC page and there are roughly over 200 similar pages (with varying levels of support). Famously, the tech-savy super cop Kiran Bedi - her Twitter avatar, @thekiranbedi, has 1,02,489 followers on Twitter – tweeted from the police van as she was being taken away for detention. She tweets and interacts frequently with followers, even uses it to reach out to mediapersons and famous Twitterati (an account perhaps operated by her team, being as busy as she is).

Experts agree that the social media presence, like the support on the ground, is indeed larger this time both in terms of numbers and diversity of content. Unlike last time when the discussion was often based on opinions, news paper articles and pictures, the user generated content is diverse this time; including songs written on Anna – some tuneless and others tuneful – cellphone recordings of protest rallies, patriotic testimonies, street plays and so on. The YouTube channel called “thekiranbedi2011” created on August 18, hosts video interviews, presentations on Jan Lokpal and speeches, and has been viewed 1.64 lakh times. Perhaps, social media has been at its vibrant best in the past week.

Nishant Shah, director (research) at the Centre for Internet and Society, who has been tracking the social media upsurge over the past week, feels that the tone was distinctly different this time. It was almost like a “lalkaar” [call to arms], he says. The debates and discussions we saw last time made way for what seemed like a matter-of-fact 'call for action. “The hash-tags simply said AnnaHazare, Lokpal or gave information about protest locations; there were no lessons to decode or no need to take sides all of a sudden. It was just time to mobilise, and an incredible number of people took on the job of using these tools to spread the message.” Being a largely urban phenomenon, located technologies (or new media) such as blogs, radio and YouTube channels were used extensively this time, he added.

This article is replaced with a longer version.

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