Social media’s range and reach restricted to a small audience, say experts

As campaigning for the Lok Sabha battle heats up, political parties are making all-out efforts to woo voters in the online space — from blogs by senior leaders, spoofs on famous faces to hangouts with decision-makers or celebrity endorsements.

But will the battle being fought on myriad social networking sites and other online platforms translate into votes? Do your ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ ensure that you would vote for a particular party?

Experts feel that although political campaigning on social media stands to benefit the parties in influencing their potential vote bank, its range and reach is restricted to a small audience.

“Social media is a legitimate tool of persuasion. It helps build a personal rapport, may be, more effective than door-to-door campaigning. In the information age, political parties need to flex their ‘electronic muscle’ along with money and might,” says Professor Deepak Kumar, chairperson, Centre for Media Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Although middle class urban voters may be influenced by online political campaigning, a sizeable number of people will cast their votes based on local issues, he says. “These online campaigns cannot reach people in the rural belt of the country owing to the digital divide.”

A study conducted by a media think-tank, Centre for Media Studies (CMS), on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, speaks of the strong influence of social networking sites on young voters.

“Though young voters are moving to new media to get information about candidates, they do not consider it the only source. The social media marketers are still struggling to gauge whether ‘likes and shares’ are actually translating into action, i.e. votes,” says P.N. Vasanti, director, CMS.

A number of students who consider interaction on social networking sites an integral part of their daily routine, said they will not be influenced by online political advertising and will cast their votes based on “ground realities.”

“The beauty of new media lies in the fact that we also get the counter argument to what we are saying at one place,” says K. Mallikarjuna Gupta, a student of Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at Jamia Millia Islamia.

Like or unlike, share or tweet, upload or download — the political battle on social media seems to be getting only fiercer.

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