In 2010, when the India Against Corruption movement was being planned, outreach through social media was a part of it. It had a Facebook page, and the various personalities who had joined the movement had their own social media presence.
My involvement with the IAC came about by chance. In April 2011, a friend of mine had come from Mumbai and asked me to accompany him to Jantar Mantar, where Anna [Hazare] ji was sitting on anshan. Soon, I came in contact with the IAC leaders, including Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia. I was given the responsibility of looking after the IAC email ID. Gradually, I was pulled into the social media team, and since I (am an IT engineer), I was tasked with handling the IAC websites. By August, when the second round of the campaign began, I was given charge of the social media outreach of the andolan.
It was important to post regular updates since things were moving so fast. We had to think ahead and strategise. When Anna ji got arrested on August 16, we already had a video of him ready, which we released. In 2011, such strategies were quite out of the box.
We had volunteers worldwide, people who were adept with social media and who sympathised with the IAC cause. They made a phenomenal difference. Inspiration came from the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2008-2009 as also the 2012 election campaign of Barack Obama. Also, we were at the right place at the right time. Technology was cheap, social media was not as crowded, Facebook algorithms were not so tricky as today. If we were to mount a similar campaign today, we would require a lot of money. Then, we could do it at no cost.
When it comes to the use of social media in the Aam Aadmi Party’s electoral strategy, it has helped because Delhi is a mobile-phone-dense state. However, there cannot be zero action on the ground and all action on social media. There cannot be a disconnect between the ground reality and what you are showing on social media. For example, in the kisan andolan (farmers’ protest), you have people on the ground, hence it is being talked about on social media. Also, we had the early mover advantage. Even the BJP acknowledged that our campaign between 2011 and 2013 showed them how to utilise social media better for their campaign in 2014.
Social media is here to stay as part of the outreach of political parties. The format may keep changing, but any organisation, which has a public interface, cannot do without a social media strategy.
—As told to Soni Mishra
Ankit Lal is a political strategist, campaign consultant and author. His book India Social delves into the impact of social media in India. He formerly headed the social media and IT wing of the AAP.