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Digital Native: Getting through an election made for the social media gaze

Posted by Nishant Shah at Apr 28, 2019 04:12 AM |
In the poll season, social media platforms thrive on wounded outrage disguised as politics.

The article by Nishant Shah was published in Indian Express on April 21, 2019.


There is palpable excitement as the most populous democracy in the world goes out to vote. Last election, which saw the saffron sweep, we realised the role of social media platforms in electoral politics. From the controversial selfie by the aspiring Prime Minister flaunting the lotus symbol, that was reported as violating the advertisement rules set by the Election Commission, to the mass mobilisation of ideology-based voters, orchestrated by automated bots and the hashtag brigades of #acchedin, there was no denying that digital strategies are going to form the backend of a robust political campaign.

At the same time, the manifestos of the two leading coalitions, as well as the affidavits of the people running for office, are under deep public scrutiny. The BJP, in a Freudian blooper, announced itself as working for violence on women, incurring the sarcastic wrath of Twitter. One minister, who has been running through various cabinet positions, including education, was called to task to explain her wide repertoire of unverified degrees that change every voting season. Complaints against suspicious Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have made themselves heard loudly on social-media discussion forums. And lately, the YouTube videos of people allegedly showing the easy removal of the indelible ink from the voting fingers, exploded into public view, jeopardising the integrity of the one-person-one-vote paradigm.

Social media, it would seem, is everywhere. And its ubiquity is ensuring that all stakeholders of the electoral process are performing for the social media gaze. Our leaders are talking in tweet-sized morsels, hoping to get their last messages in. The organisers of the massive process have taken to debunking false claims, providing verified information, and guiding people to their voting processes. The voters are not only wearing their party colours, but also canvassing for their favourite leaders, either through proclamations of patriotism or through emotional messages of voting against hate and discrimination. Voting groups are scrutinising and discussing the party manifestos and also the unexpected alliances coming into being in the quest of reaching the majority mark.

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Author

Nishant Shah

Dr. Nishant Shah is the co-founder and board member of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, and is a professor at the Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media at Leuphana University in Germany, and is Dean of Research at ArtEZ Graduate School, the Netherlands.