Political campaigning hots up through social media

Researchers analyse how political parties used hashtags ahead of U.P. elections

February 13, 2022 02:26 pm | Updated 02:26 pm IST - HYDERABAD

Samajwadi Party (SP) President Akhilesh Yadav waves towards supporters during SP-RLD joint ‘Samajwadi Vijay Yatra’, ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, in Bulandshahr. File

Samajwadi Party (SP) President Akhilesh Yadav waves towards supporters during SP-RLD joint ‘Samajwadi Vijay Yatra’, ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, in Bulandshahr. File | Photo Credit: PTI

In the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) elections, Twitter handles that support the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have tweeted more about U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, while those of its allies have mentioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi more often. The Samajwadi Party (SP) was “organised” in using hashtags to maximise its reach on Twitter, and Congress has criticised both Mr Modi and Mr Adityanath, as opposed to the SP which went more after the latter.

A team comprising Prof Ponnurangam Kumaraguru from International Institute of Information Technology - Hyderabad, Joyojeet Pal from the University of Michigan, researchers Asmit Singh Jivitesh Jain and Lalitha Kameswari analysed hashtags and arrived at these conclusions. 

According to Prof Kumaraguru, the team collected and analysed hashtags which as many as 11,000 people used. These include parliamentarians, legislators, workers, and supporters of BJP, SP, INC, RLD, BSP, AIMIM, Nishad Party, Aam Admi Party, and Apna Dal. Data pertaining to hashtags used was collected from September 2021 to January 2022. 

The team then sorted hashtags based on the frequency of their usage and listed the top 10 hashtags for each week. These were then hand-coded for textual content. The team found three kinds of hashtags: personal attacks of individual politicians, name-calling or criticising party ideology, and finally attacking actions or lack thereof of political parties. For instance, a hashtag, aimed at targeting the Congress, accused the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru of womanising was run. The other hashtag accused the SP of having an affinity to Jinnah, and the third blamed the BJP of being responsible for unemployment and farmers’ crisis. 

The analysts mapped how hashtags were being used. For instance, the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen used more hashtags to criticise the BJP and comparatively fewer for Congress. 

“Despite the relatively large lead that the BJP has over the other parties in terms of its total representation of accounts on Twitter – almost all the parties are fairly aggressive in using hashtags as a means of getting their base,” the analysts stated. 

While the BJP uses hashtags to highlight its achievements. Criticism using hashtags is primarily for the SP, and then for the Congress. On the other hand, the SP largely uses hashtags to criticise the BJP, the team noted. 

In connection with BJP’s use of hashtags, the analysis states, “First we see one important distinction between the hashtag use of the BJP and that of its allied party. BJP politicians tend to tweet about Yogi in hashtags (YogiWillBeBack, UPyogiHaiYogi), but their allied parties like Apna Dal and Nishad Party use hashtags centred on Modi.” This the team suggests that the BJP’s allies perceive Mr Modi as more “saleable” to their parties.” 

“The politicians from SP were very organised in tweeting and the usage of hashtags every week. There were relatively fewer unique hashtags when compared to other parties, and the same set of hashtags were largely used every week, in order to trend and maximise the reach of the hashtags,” the analysis notes, adding that बाइस_में_बाइसिकल hashtag was widely used and that this enables the party to frequently trend it. 

Congress used the “लड़की_हूँ_लड़_सकती_हूँ” hashtag and was consistently highlighted by party workers and supporters. Unlike the SP which criticised Mr Adityanath using hashtags, the Congress targeted both Mr Adityanath and Mr Modi. 

“Social media is prevalent in elections. The analysis shows that all parties are taking it seriously and the use of hashtags reflects this,” said Prof Kumaraguru. 

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