Social Media

#Chowkidar to #Chor: An election that was all atwitter

A J Vinayak Mangaluru | Updated on May 21, 2019

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections were contested with ferocious competitiveness in the dusty bylanes of cities and towns across the country. But perhaps more than any previous general election, there were feisty fights in the supercharged atmosphere of social media platform Twitter.

With political parties engineering hashtag trends virtually every day during the campaign period, and with promises and accusations by leaders and parties saturating Twitter timelines, an army of hyper-partisan supporters used the 280-character platform to the limit.

The just-concluded elections were the third in India held under the sway of Twitter, which was founded in 2006. The platform has now become an integral part of electioneering in the country.

In 2009, as Twitter began to gain traction in India, a handful of tech-savvy politicians, including Narendra Modi of the BJP and Shashi Tharoor of the Congress, used the micro-blogging platform, which then provided for only 140-character posts, to reach out to people.

Tharoor had fewer than 10,000 followers during the 2009 elections, but that was still the highest follower count for an Indian politician at that time.

After assuming charge in the UPA-II government in June 2009, Tharoor had tweeted: “In Dubai my old friend Sheikha Lubna, UAE Foreign Trade Minister, hosted a friendly lunch at which she greeted me as ‘Minister Twitter’!”

Modi, then the Gujarat Chief Minister, used his Twitter handle to highlight his government’s achievements, and posted his campaign updates during the 2009 elections.

After the results came in, he had tweeted: “The people have mandated the BJP to sit in the Opposition and we will perform the act by playing the role of a constructive Opposition.”

Among the parties, the BJP’s Karnataka unit (@BJP4Karnataka) took the lead to open an account in 2009. The national unit (@BJP4India) joined in October 2010.

Among the others, the Telugu Desam Party waded into Twitter world in March 2011, the Aam Aadmi Party in 2012 and Congress somewhat belatedly in 2013.

Twitter’s political evolution

During 2009, the poll-related content was limited to posts by a handful of politicians, a few enthusiastic Twitter users and a few media houses. By 2014, however, the election chatter on Twitter became quite shrill.

Twitter India had stated that the volume of conversation around the 2014 elections increased by 600 per cent over a year till April 2014. Mentions of political parties and candidates alone shot up more than 10-fold in four months, it said.

In May 2014, Twitter India said the platform recorded more than 58 million election-related tweets from January 1 to May 16. Each of the poll days in 2014 saw between 5.4 lakh and 8.2 lakh election-related tweets. That number crossed 1.5 million during the 24-hour period up to 8.30 pm of May 16 2014, when the result came out.

Twitter had become the medium of choice for people to consume political content. By May 2014, Narendra Modi had 3.97 million followers, and Arvind Kejriwal of AAP 1.79 million, AAP 6.82 lakh followers, the BJP 4.91 lakh, and the Congress 1.78 lakh.

For the 2019 elections, a Twitter handle became de rigueur for all politicians and parties.

Twitter India is yet to announce the number of election-related tweets for the period between March 11 and May 19 (the last phase of election). However, between March 11 (the day elections were announced) and April 11 (the first phase of election), nearly 45.6 million tweets were generated around #LokSabhaElections2019. Of these, 1.2 million were tweeted on April 11.

Comparatively, in cricket-crazy India, the number of tweets generated during IPL 2019 around the hashtag #IPL2019 was only 27 million from March 1 to May 13

Conversations around #MainBhiChowkidar of the BJP and the NYAY scheme of the Congress gained momentum in the first month of the election period. National security, religion, jobs, agriculture, taxes and trade were the top five election conversations during the first month.

Going by the volume of tweet content generated during the first month of polling and the trending hashtags of different parties every day during the election period, the number of poll-related tweet content is likely to be higher in 2019 than in 2014.

Published on May 21, 2019

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