Social media a strong tool this poll season?

May 10, 2017

The Kathmandu Post, 10th May 2017, Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu

When the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in India in 2014, the sweeping victory in the elections was while attributed to a wide range of factors, the role social media played was also talked about at length, with analysts even calling the vote India’s first “social media elections”.

US President Donald Trump has on many an occasion attributed his victory to “the powers of social media”.

“I really believe that the fact that I have such power in terms of numbers with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc... I think it helped me win all of these races where they’re spending much more money than I spent,” he had told the CBS channel’s 60 minutes in his first interview after the US election in November last year.

In recent years, social media has emerged as a powerful tool for politicians, and experts believe it can have a massive influence on voters.

With the first phase of local level elections, the first in two decades, just round the corner, candidates and parties in the country have taken to social media—Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—to send their messages across.

At least in city areas, candidates/ parties have their Facebook pages and Twitter followers, which have made it easier for them to connect to the people.

When it comes to internet connectivity, one in two Nepalis use the internet, according to a latest report by the Nepal Telecommunication Authority. The report says there are 13.18 million internet subscribers in the country—nearly 56 percent of the population. This has made it even easier for candidates and parties to establish direct communication with the people.

Ujjwal Acharya, a social media expert, agrees that social media has become an unmediated, cheap and easy tool for candidates to reach out to the people. “They can dispatch content in different forms—text, photo or multimedia in no time,” he adds.

Sajha Party, the newest political force that came into being just about a month before the schedule polls, has been running massive campaigns through social media. Bibeksheel Nepali, yet another new party, too has a pretty good presence in the virtual world. 

“It indeed has made us easier; at least we don’t have to introduce ourselves, as voters already know us through social media,” says Nirupama Yadav, deputy mayoral candidate of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City from Sajha Party. “Social media has made our campaign easier.”

Other major parties also have their Facebook pages through which they have been trying to connect to people.

Nepali Congress’ Facebook page has around 110,000 followers while the CPN-UML has around 90,000. Leaders of these parties say while the importance of door-to-door campaigns will always remain there, reaching out to a large number of people through social media also helps a lot.

A video on Bibeksheel Nepali’s Facebook page is an example.

The video of the party’s campaign held in Sinamangal posted on its Facebook page was a huge hit with 48,000 views in a span of three hours.

The Rastriya Prajatantara Party has been using its celebrity leaders like singer Komal Oli and actor Rekha Thapa through social media for campaigning .

“Campaigning through social media is equally important as we continue our traditional way of seeking votes,” said Mohan Shrestha, assistant spokesperson for the RPP. According to Shrestha, the RPP has a nine-member team to look after the party’s campaign through social media. Actor Thapa, who recently took the membership of the RPP, has three million Facebook followers.

But how much difference is there between having followers on social media and reaching out to people virtually and being able to secure votes? Will social media have any  impact on voters when they go to vote on Sunday?

Social media expert Acharya is skeptical.

“It cannot be said for sure whether they [candidates/ parties] have managed to reach the target audience. It also depends on how people perceive them,” says Acharya.