Elections in the times of pandemic: Social media get an uptick in poll strategy as parties want candidates with online presence

Rafat Fatima (45) wants to contest the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, due early next year, from Lucknow West constituency on a Congress ticket. Nowadays, she is busy filling up the application form given by the party to ticket aspirants.

While she has no trouble in filling up the columns on her social work in the constituency or the party-related activities, it is the column on her social media presence that is making her anxious. Generally, a Facebook user, Fatima has around 1,600 followers on her Twitter handle.

“It’s the Instagram and YouTube where I need to strengthen my profile to meet the social media requirement of the party,” says Fatima.

Welcome to the post-pandemic elections as political parties have started focusing on online reach.

“Social media par maujudgi” or presence on social media has become one of the important criteria for the candidates willing to project themselves as strong contenders.

The significance of active social media presence for the candidates can be ascertained from the fact that the Congress, among other things, requires its probable candidates to give details about their social media presence, not just on one but on four different social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube — along with the likes or shares that they receive for their posts.

“In today’s time, social media has come to play a significant role in reaching out to the voters. Therefore, seeking the social media presence of our probable candidates is just an attempt to see how many followers they have, have they done some programmes in their areas; if they have, then what are the number of likes that their posts have generated. The significance of social media cannot be denied by anyone in today’s time in reaching out to a larger section of people,” says Uttar Pradesh Congress president Ajay Kumar Lallu.

Fatima also agrees.

“It is the need of the present times. I was always active on Facebook and had made many common interest groups on WhatsApp as well, helping people in my area in need. But since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, I realised the importance and reach of platforms like Twitter and have become active there. Social media is a quick medium to connect with people, especially the youths. In fact, some of them from my area prompted me to form a WhatsApp group so that they can easily share problems of their locality. It is working well as we waste no time in connecting with the local bodies and other offices personally as well as tagging them on social media,” Fatima adds.

The ruling BJP has been working on the same lines. During a recently organised workshop on media for state leaders and office-bearers, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had urged party leaders and workers to “contest false claims and allegations of the Opposition” on social media and also spread the word about his government’s schemes and policies.
He had also expressed his displeasure with the performance of the party’s IT cell, saying: “We are such a big
outfit, so many followers, and despite it we feel that we are on the backfoot… Why is this situation?

Even political parties, like the BSP, have also significantly increased their social media presence. The party has appointed “media spokespersons”, who are all active on social media platforms.

In the past one-and-a-half year of pandemic, top Opposition leaders — BSP chief Mayawati, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — have all fought political battles against the ruling BJP largely on social media. As the elections approach, and the parties have started campaigning on the ground, politicians feel the need to continue the focus on social media as well.

According to Faizan Khan, one of the recently appointed spokespersons of the BSP, they will be asking their candidates to become active on social media.

Admitting the significance that social media is going to play in the upcoming elections, he says, “While our campaign will be equally strong on the ground but in the present scenario, considering the great role that social media is playing, we cannot be de-attached. While Behenji (Mayawati) herself is active on Twitter, we will ask our candidates to be active on social media as well.”

“We have seen that there is a section of the society to which we can connect better on social media today. Thus, we do not want to be missed out on that. While we have a significant vote bank in rural areas, we do not want the impression that party is distant because it is not present on social media,” he adds.

Juhi Singh of the Samajwadi Party, who is active on most of the social media platforms concurs.

“It is not a part of our thought-out strategy, but with Akhilesh ji having a youth connect, we already have a larger and active presence on social media. We use social media platforms not just for sharing information but also to expose the misinformation being spread,” Singh, who is also the national president of SP Mahila Sabha, says.

“Social media is very relevant in the post-Covid world, and I feel that all the parties will have to balance their campaigns between offline and online,” she adds.

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