The last few years have seen the fixation around the words ‘Social Media’ reach proportions fit for magical fascinations. Nearly every group, organisation and individual has conceptualised the words beyond its basic definition, i.e., networking. But the area which has best captured and moulded social media to its advantage is perhaps politics. Ankit Lal, social media strategist for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in his book India Social gets it just right by delving into the equation that political parties have built with netizens through a perpetual electoral campaign.
The book not just explores the hugely popular ‘Anna Movement’ but also the initial days of the AAP — from a humble protest group to a political party to be reckoned with across the country. So, while tracing through the upheavels within the movement, Lal’s book directs us toward the virtual route the party strategised to map its way into national politics. In between, the social media wizard also throws in his little gems that he seemed to have learnt while at work. One of the most relevant ones that comes in the beginning is to know what not to post. Figuring out what to post is easy, the trick is to know what to avoid, writes Lal.
But Lal’s book goes beyond just AAP and explores as well as acknowledges the exploits of the two political powerhouses of the country — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) — on the virtual electoral platform. He is quick to recognise the ruling party’s current dominance on social media, which he believes mainly revolves around spreading and generating interest around the party’s agenda and transferring their solid supporters on ground to the online platforms.
While BJP has the highest number of online followers (13.4 million Facebook likes and 6.16 million Twitter followers in August 2017 to be precise) according to Lal, the party used the messaging platform, WhatsApp, effectively to reach out to neutral groups during election when the social media platforms were getting increasingly polarising. This, the author opines, is where the real game was played. Interestingly, AAP’s social media plan has been devised to blend the strategies followed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose strength is in creating and expanding a supporter base on ground, with that of the activist group Anonymous which attracts likeminded supporters through a decentralised command structure.
What the author does not shy away from is from bringing up the topic of ‘Trolls’, likening the Bhakts of India to the followers of Putin and Erdogan supporters. While Lal believes that fan armies are an old concept, social media has given them a freedom which they had previously not enjoyed; — that of anonymity. He points out that this anonymity has also warranted the creation of fake accounts and paid campaigns.
Throughout the book, Lal’s trick has been to expose the reader to the minute impacts of social media arranged within the wider spectrum of political as well as social roadmapping. The best thing about the book is that it unravels the emergence of social media in India in almost a perfect chronological manner and dissects some of the most influential campaigns of the decade. A definitive read for those who are curious about the behind-the-scenes activity of the most controversial tweets. Is that recent tweet by a political persona a spontaneous outburst or a perfectly planned and timed update? Maybe Ankit Lal’s India Social will give you the answer!