November 29, 2013

#Cobrapost, #Kapilsibal, #SheilaDikshit and other social media updates

Some interesting updates on the Indian social media today.

One, Cobrapost, a website claiming to clean India by exposing scandals, and run by Aniruddha Bahal of #Tehelka fame, has published an expose, Operation Blue Virus. 

According to it, many companies are running ‘reputation management’ business, which means offering to boost social media popularity and destroy an opponent’s reputation. According to Cobrapost, it uncovered two dozen such companies by posing to be a politician’s agent. Among the offers made by these shady companies were for generating fake followings on Facebook and Twitter accounts, stopping negative comments, making YouTube video go viral and doing negative publicity against somebody – all with utmost anonymity.  

What makes this expose a bit suspect is that all those exposed (for such unethical and illegal activities for politicians) work for Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the country’s opposition party, the BJP. Consider how politicians of all hues have been indulging in undesirable social media conduct (check this ITP post: web presence of Indian politicians) and you see the bias. Beyond that, this expose does bring into highlight the rot in politics and social media, once again.

Ready to vote: photo from 
This makes us take you to the 2012 US Presidential campaign. Social media in the US was more active in November 2012 than it is in India a year later. Various studies have suggested that it made an impact in terms of political engagement and taking people out to vote, but its influence on voters’ perceptions about candidates and parties was minimal if at all. What it died hugely was to amplify good quotes and  graceful public appearances as much as gaffes and indiscretions. In India, social media engagements have started well before the 2014 elections, and the amplification is much more, aided by vitriolic personal comments, half-true exposes [not specifically referring to the one mentioned above] and distortion of facts.   

Two, some top leaders of the Congress, the main political party, who were reluctant to come on social media have realized its importance, albeit a bit late. Kapil Sibal, India’s Communications & IT Minister and one despised on social media for his tough talk about controls on the social media, is now himself on Twitter (@kapilsibal), after opening his blog recently. (You can have a look at his and other Indian politicians’ blogging activities here.) Sheila Dikshit, the 3-time Delhi CM and with perhaps no presence on any social media platform, is coming on YouTube hangout tomorrow.

Three, Google has come out with pages on its portal that are devoted to Indian elections (removed later, so no link), starting with the assembly elections currently going on. Facebook and Twitter are also getting their acts together, seeing a big opportunity to reach a large audience. Facebook, for example, has been asking users to register through a ‘register to vote’ feature and know details about a candidate through a mobile phone based utility.