Millennium Post

Social media fragments electoral politics

Fifth estate constituencies seem balkanised in India. People with disruptive political convictions tend to choose websites and discussion groups that support their convictions and in fact, fifth estate constituencies are full of hullabaloo and rhetoric that cannot substitute for the real politic at town squares. Instead, social media constituencies are spaces of straightened manipulation, fictitious conspiracies and unscrupulous paid publicity management.

American writer Cas Sunstein (2001) argued that Internet has moved on to a sort of cultural balkanisation since it enables customised user patters. This view is analogous to what happens in the political potential of Indian Internet. The magnitude of information available from newspapers, television, and Internet that consumers sorting out based on customisation of interesting or uninteresting, the impending democratic potential of the so-called radical media is just a forecast. It never occurs.

Narendra Modi faction might choose to read online newspapers, websites, and Facebook commentaries with a conservative slant; the centrist might chat in chat rooms dominated by other centrist forces. The left in the political spectre and the third front alternatives on the making are battling for their social media constituencies. The middle class bound anti-graft bloc unearthed their camaraderie in their own fragmented digital spheres. However, how often these little platoons of fragmented social media republics are corresponding to ground realities. Internet, with its distinctive facility to connect geographically far-away individuals with analogous opinions, in deed intensifies the tendency toward fragmented political mobilisations.By pre-selecting opinions, commentaries, news, ideas, and information, the nebulous social media political sphere has almost tossed shadow on the avowed liberating potential expected of it. Political communication taking shape in social websites is in fact, fragmented. Meanwhile, political class using the new loudspeaker to engage their voters is arguably making monologues. Participatory basis of politics in Web 2.0 obviously, seemed at serious damage in the election ecology in 2014. Seemingly these arguments does not fall fair in the commonsense of almost all people who at least maintains  a Facebook account or just know how to send an SMS in their cell phones. Yet, electoral mobilisation in the timelines and wall updates wills has far deeper structures of conspiracies that cut across the money, power and corporate connections.

A vantage point to be skeptical of social media politics has come in front of us. Political class makes bipartisan, nomadic, unabashed and self-seeking one-way monologues in social media sites.

Comment sections in Facebook walls filled up with spiteful, venomous and scathing attack on rivals for even their forgettable human fault. The possibilities that social media opens up for fragmenting the electoral mobilisation in the run up to general election in India is at the heart of the untold social media stories. Kerala based Union Minister contesting the Lok Sabha poll form Kerala; Kodikunnil Suresh lodged complaint against a Facebook post against him that is becoming viral. The link was pertaining to a social media drive to taint his image by linking him to Shalu Menon, a serial actress accused in the solar scam.  Known to the unknown, the complicity that social networking sites represent in making malicious ghetto-jumped political culture in the election run up seemed with no parallels in election history. More viewpoints, more opinion, more everything, and most of it without filters or fees, participatory politics facilitated by Web 2.0 in fact, predicted to be harbinger of new era of radical democracy, but it  charmed us in vain.

Crowd is not often wise in Internet, observes Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Keen (2008) and it is true to say crowd always created notions of feminity, porn, misogyny, caste, race, fundamentalism, ritualism and so on in Indian Internet. Internet has configured an amateurish culture where everyone seemed a publisher and all this is possible because there is absence of much required filtering process and traditional gatekeeping function. Therefore, people make use of such unrestricted public sphere for all nauseating purposes especially during election time.

Ill-informed, indoctrinated, misdirected by the growing hate culture, rising ghetto culture, inflating Americanisation of political public by the raging reproduction of social media bound political communication, middle class sprung shopping malls and to sum up, fifth estate constituencies in electoral politics will be nothing more than mere publicity aerobatics and paid commercials.

The apprehension Andrew Keen posed similarly reflective in the Indian electoral scenario. Spiteful commentaries on photos shared in social networking sites that vehemently attacks political opponent. YouTube videos that sarcastically make political rivals look as if buffoons. Thoughtless Likes put on the Facebook commentaries that make uncivilized annotations on politicians of opposing factions. There are no parallels in electoral history where citizens got such an unrestricted public sphere. Users speak on their own convictions but often without filters, gatekeeping and professional standards.

The author teaches Political Science at Government Brennen College, Kerala
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