As many of you are aware, I began this blog for my Mass Communication Theory class. I am in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC, specializing in Public Relations. In addition, I am also majoring in Political Science. That being said, I have thoroughly enjoyed blogging and being part of this JOMC class (and no, Professor Robinson, I am not at all brown-nosing).

In addition to blogging for this class, for my final, I have to research a topic relating to mass media and predict its influence 10 years down the road. Seeing that I love politics, and I am an avid social media user, I decided to research the effects of social media on U.S. presidential politic campaigns. I have done a lot of research specifically studying the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections. As of right now, I am in the process of creating a video that I will submit as my final project. Needless to say, if I can pull it off, I am very excited about my final!

Anyway, as I have continued to research, I came across an interesting article from CNN. The article discussed the recent use of social media for political campaigning in India. All this time I had been restricting my search, only addressing U.S presidential politics. However, truth be told, social media is a world-wide phenomenon and therefore is also a contributing factor in international politics.

Congress party supporters hold flags as they walk home after attending a rally for Rahul Gandhi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Saturday, April 12. India's general election is being held in stages over five weeks. Voters will elect 543 members to the lower house of parliament, which will then select the country's next prime minister. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is stepping aside after a decade in charge.

Similar to the U.S., India’s politicians are using social media to advance their internet presences, expand their voter outreach, and gain swing votes. “Social media has become the new election battleground for India’s nationwide parliamentary elections, which started Monday, April 7th. Having an official YouTube channel or an active Facebook page is now as important as holding mass rallies and plastering candidates’ faces on billboards.”

Many Indian candidates are using the 2012 U.S. presidential elections as an example to help generate their own social media campaigns. They also have established their own social media tactics. For instance, “more than three million Twitter followers of the Indian prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi received a personalized greeting from him. In addition, In another online campaign, supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were urged to donate a tweet or Facebook status to the newly formed anti-corruption party.”

It is in the best interest of these politicians to hire social media experts who can win the votes of India’s 200 million Internet users. Using social media saves time, money, and appeals to a younger audience who are often less educated in politics. These social media campaigns are not only being used as political promotions, but they are also creating conversation. It is a well-known fact that individuals feel more comfortable debating controversial issues online versus face to face. Having the computer serve as a protective barrier invites individuals, especially the youth, to state their own opinions and ideas. Therefore, using social media for political campaigning enables more people to participate in an open political discussion. Ultimately, the more who participate in these conversations, the more who are politically educated, and the more who feel obliged to vote. It really comes full circle.

But what about votes in more rural areas who do not have access to the Internet?

“Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, New Delhi-based independent political analyst, says that with the digital divide in India, the impact of online campaigns remains constrained. ‘Let’s not exaggerate the influence of social media to influence Indian society in general, and politics in particular,” he said. “One of four people in India has never used the Internet; they are just beginning to use a mobile. The impact, as of now, remains limited largely to urban areas and well-off sections of society.'”

Still, “the IAMAI report estimates there could be a vote swing of 3 to 4% in 24 states — states with significant numbers of Internet users. These could be young men or non-working women who are active social media users.” If anything, these new social media tactics are influencing voter demographic and inviting younger voters to participate in political campaigns.

And just why is it that social media draws in a larger voter participation base versus traditional political campaign tactics?

It is simple, they are fun! Social media allows for creativity…bright colors, catchy phrases, and witty humor.  Instead of boring politics, social media provides for more party politics, a source of entertainment. Candidates are tactfully meshing pop culture with political reporting and campaigning. And amidst our busy lives, social media is quick and easy to use. It is a win-win situation. We do not have time to read long presidential platforms. Instead, we can learn what we need to know via videos and blurbs posted on social media. If they are designed well, we then share them.  And with every share, candidates gain a transparent advantage, with little promotion besides posting. Social media does the work for the candidates. There is a less of an emphasis placed on self-promotion because social media can simply reach more people. This gives candidates a chance to focus their attention on other campaign outlets.

Who knew social media could play a role in politics…even internationally!

***As for my project…if you enjoyed this article, stay tune for my documentary in two weeks. I will likely post it on my blog.