Saturday, March 31, 2007

Social Networking sites as a political campaign tool -Orkut

I had recently written about the use of technology in the political process (YouTube as a tool for political campaigns) , and it's possible implications in the Indian context a decade from now. Building on the same theme is an article in the Washington Post (dt 30 March) which makes the pattern clearer . This article is about US Presidential candidate John Edwards using social networking sites as a campaign tool and also a distribution channel for campaign materials and content . He is on all the big ones: Flickr, YouTube, MySpace ,Facebook, et al, ...not including his own OneCorps which is supposed to have 20,000 members . In addition to this his own website has a blog feature, podcasts , RSS feeds etc etc . According to observers of the 2008 US Presidential polls , Sen. Barack Obama ,judging by the number of friends on MySpace or number of views of his YouTube videos, may be the most popular online candidate....interesting way of assessing electoral fortunes of candidates isn't it ?

In my previous post I had mentioned about the possible applications of the YouTube as a campaign tool in India about a decade from the light of the Washington post article and the state of Internet usage in India....I am tempted to beleive that social networking sites have a significant role to play in political campaigns in India as well.....

The number of people who are members of an Orkut community dedicated to one or more political parties is insignificant at this point in time , but nevertheless growing rapidly .All major national political parties and regional ones like DMK , BSP , SP , TDP , TMC, CPI(M) etc ...have a community in Orkut and the members range from hundreds to thousands . If one goes through the profile of the members of this community , its not necessarily the urban Indian youth . A quick glance of the membership profile of these communities would reveal that there is a fair percentage of people from the semi-urban and rural India . I randomly looked at the posts of the Samajwadi Party -orkut community and it was not surprising to see that community members are already using it as an election tool .

In addition to the Orkut communities dedicated to specific political parties , there are communities based on locations -for instance , there are communities dedicated to Navi Mumbai and also for Nerul ( a nodal town in Navi Mumbai ,where I presently reside..) , it will not be long before the local corporator starts using it to reach people in his constituency (Nerul has 2,000 members and Navi Mumbai has almost 7,000 members...and these numbers are growing rapidly) . Cynics will call it 'the spray and pray strategy..... try what you can.....see what sticks," . While at this point in time , given the numbers and the Internet penetration in our country it could be "spray and pray" , but I believe that with the rise of usage of social networking sites (across India) and the increase of bandwidth will make this a reasonably viable channel for electoral battles .......what do you think ?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One area you missed out is the alumni from schools and colleges as communities in Orkut. Our old college student union leaders have the ability to continue their political campaigns with a hiatus in the middle, only to be reconnected again by the power of the internet.

But I feel the election Commission will come down strongly soon enough to try and restrain campainging over the internet. Our commissions like to have control and would not like this perfectly fair campaign media yet uncensored, to flourish. But I hope they will not have success.