Parties using social media to divert attention from real issues: Experts

As social media and WhatsApp messages have emerged as a powerful tool for mass outreach, political parties are leaving no stone unturned in influencing voters through messages, videos, photographs and even jokes mocking their rival parties and leaders.

In the past, social media posts and messages have often led to arguments, clashes and even FIRs in big cities, small towns and even remote villagers causing law and order problems.

Subedar Singh, a social activist, says: “Hanging around at roadside eateries and stalls has been a tradition among youths in Uttar Pradesh, especially in Prayagraj and other adjoining districts. Social media and WhatsApp messages have influenced discussions at these places which are now more focused on national and international issues.”

Singh says the biggest damage that this trend has done is that they have been successful in putting local issues on the back burner, says Singh who has been working for marginalised classes and tribal communities.

Almost every youth, be it in village or cities, is connected to WhatsApp groups, many of them formed by local leaders of political parties.

The groups have become a means for sending and receiving messages which are mostly forwarded, copied and circulated. While most of these messages have no authenticity, they are initiating discussions based on wrong facts and fake information.

Rehan Khan, who runs an NGO in rural areas of Prayagraj and Kaushambi, says while youths are the main target of politically-motivated messages, it is the rural voters who are largely influenced by them.

“Roadside eateries, stalls and local village hangouts were earlier abuzz with local problems related to agriculture, poor roads, employment, cricket and even atrocities of local policemen. But youths are now discussing national and international politics, history, terrorism, which directly or indirectly correlates with political ideologies,” Khan says.

Political scientist and former vice-chancellor of the Allahabad University Rajen Harshe says, “People of all age groups are being flooded with messages having the capacity to spread hatred and align their views in favour of a particular political ideology. While the messages are mostly related to national and often international events, they are specially designed to brainwash the youth and distract their attention from relevant issues.”

National leaders should also refrain from making derogatory comments against their opponents, he adds.

Assistant professor at the Delhi School of Economics Praveen Pathak says that youths are now spending more time on social media and WhatsApp and are vulnerable to messages and posts with an agenda.

“Nearly all political parties are using social media to attract the youth by distorting facts and propagating irrelevant messages. The tendency of youths to give quick reaction on social media platforms is helping them,” he adds.

“Social media messages are being successfully used in diverting the attention of voters, especially those of rural areas, from issues which directly affect their well-being. As public representatives during the past many decades have been mostly unsuccessful in addressing local problems, social media messages are used as a tool to motivate voters to ignore local issues and cast their votes keeping national interest in mind,” Pathak adds.

First Published:
Mar 30, 2019 12:10 IST

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