India is not new to the social sphere. We’ve had our Orkut, Hi5, MySpace and now Facebook and Twitter. What is new, though, is the sense of empowerment that one has now come to associate with the social media in India. Now, more than ever before, Indians on the internet are aware of politics in India are not afraid to voice their opinion on it.

But are these young, new breed of politically sound Indians enough in number to create a dent in the results upcoming general elections in India? A study by IRIS Knowledge Foundation seems to think so. At a conservative estimate, the study believes that the fate of no less than 150 constituencies will be determined by social media users when India goes into elections next year. At the helm of this change in the social sphere is Facebook.

A report released by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) in February 2013 entitled “Social Media in India 2012” placed the number of social media users in urban India at 62 million by December 2012. According to the report’s estimates, by the time the 16th Lok Sabha elections are held in mid 2014, the numbers will swell to 80 million users approximately. Currently, a whopping 97 percent of all social media users access Facebook on a daily basis.

Could Facebook influence the general elections? (Background Image Credit: Getty Images)

Could Facebook influence the general elections? (Background Image Credit: Getty Images)

The IRIS report suggests that social media is now sufficiently widespread to have the power to influence the outcome of the upcoming elections and thereby the government formation. “It is also likely that the 25 million strong Indian NRI community who now have voting rights would follow the elections more closely even if they are not able to be physically present in India to be able to cast their vote, they can be a big influencer too. After all, they are considerably active on social media.”

So how did IRIS reach the conclusion that social media will have a high impact on the fate of about 150 constituencies? The study says that the methodology involved grabbing data from both Facebook and the election commission. It checked the number of Facebook users who reside in that constituency and are eligible to vote on the day of the elections. It then checked from the election commission’s report as to how many people came out to vote that day in the particular constituency and what was the margin with which the winner was declared.

After that, the report classifies the constituencies in four ways – High Impact, Moderate Impact, Low Impact and No Impact. High Impact constituencies in the study are those where the number of Facebook users are more than the margin of victory for the winner. Medium Impact constituencies are those where the study has assumed that a Facebook user can influence a voter who isn’t on the social networking website. The rest of the constituencies have been classified as Low or No Impact.

While the study comes in at a great time – not just are the general elections round the corner, certain states are slated to have elections in the upcoming months – it is full of gaping holes. Firstly, the study is confined to simply Facebook. Anyone who is active on more than one social networking website in India will tell you that it isn’t Facebook, but Twitter that provides the ideal environment to conduct and be a part of stimulating political debates. IRIS does admit that Facebook was chosen for the study as users of the platform consist of 97 percent of social users in India. Take Twitter too into the fold and the study could have held more water.

What makes us even more skeptical of the study is the fact that you cannot count Facebook users like you do voters. Undeniably, social media and the discussions held on it influence voters, especially the younger lot, but it is slightly half-baked to assume that all of these Facebook users will indeed go out to vote.

Facebook data might be a great way to target your advertisements and chalk out social media strategies around products, but it is not such a good idea to use that same data to make assumptions regarding constituencies. One can easily manipulate data regarding their age and area on the social networking website. Not to mention the horde of fake profiles that populate Facebook.

While we’ve seen a plethora of political hashtags infiltrating Twitter on a daily basis as we approach d-day, Facebook seems a little too cool in that respect. Undoubtedly, we’ve seen a lot of propaganda memes on Facebook, but the real action lies on Twitter with real time debates regarding candidates and ideologies. So, will Facebook really influence the way the elections will swing this general elections? Actually, we have no fool-proof way of even finding that out yet! 

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