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Social Media and Changing Nature of Election Expenditure

Today’s innovation becomes the norm for tomorrow. This can be rightly said about the social media’s role in election campaigning in India.  During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, political parties were exploring this medium for their campaign to influence ‘online’ voters through the virtual mass media.  However, by the time for Lok Sabha 2019 election campaign started, social media did not remain a new tool to influence the voters. Instead, it became one of the most dominant tools which could not be overlooked by the political parties and candidates.  Gills Verniers, a professor at Ashoka University, said that social media has become “a constant megaphone” for political parties to amplify their messages. Around 40 percent of the voters acknowledged receiving poll-related messages on their mobile phones just before the polling day.

Extensive reach and greater impact of social media have been considered the primary reason for its popularity among the candidates and political parties for political campaigning. Another important factor is the monetary aspect of social media campaigning. Campaigning through Social media is relatively economical with respect to other conventional methods such as rallies, processions, usage of print and electronic media etc. According to the survey conducted by the Centre for Media Studies, even though social media was extensively used by political parties for campaigning during the Lok Sabha 2019 elections, yet digital ads amounted to less than 1% of their expenditure.

It is noteworthy that this is limited to the expenditure incurred through the official accounts for the campaigning. However, political parties and candidates are campaigning more than what could be tracked and accounted. This kind of political campaigning is executed through ‘viral-posts’ campaigning. In such cases, these posts/tweets are shared by party followers, social media influencers and pages which are not directly related to the party or the candidates. Thus, it becomes difficult to track these activities under election expenditure incurred by political parties and candidates on social media. Campaigning of this nature works to the benefit of the parties and candidates who cannot account for such indirect publicity under their election campaign expenditure. Further, such content is also seen as more influential for the voters than digital ads.

Addressing this additional mode of campaigning through social media, the Election Commission of India issued a guideline to be taken to monitor activities and expenditure incurred by political parties and candidates on social media campaigning. Such measures include:

  • Application of model code of conduct to social media campaigning
  • Inclusion of online campaigning expenditure in election expenditure statements of political parties and candidates.
  • One Social media expert to be a part of district and state level of Media Certification and Monitoring Committees

Keeping in mind the current scenario, it is crucial to contemplate the changing nature of campaigning and election expenditure through social media and to which extent social media will affect the overall cost of election campaigning.