Leading up to India’s 2014 elections, expected to be held in April, Facebook has announced the launch of Facebook Talks Live, with politicians like Narendra Modi (BJP) on March 3rd, Arvind Kejriwal (AAP) on March 4th, Akhilesh Yadav (SP) on March 6th, Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD) on March 8th, as well as with Mamata Banerjee (TMC) on a date as yet unspecified. The talks being launched in partnership with news website Newslaundry and TV channel NDTV, and they will be broadcast on NDTV as well as live streamed on the web, here.
Facebook appears to be emulating Google, which has made some headway with its Hangouts platform in India. Interestingly, even the hangouts with politicians were begun with the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, and that move has so far let to more and more politicians using the platform for interacting with citizens. Twitter doesn’t have a media property, but politicians like Arun Jaitly and Milind Deora have recently used Twitter chats for interacting with potential voters.
A few points on Facebook, Social Media and the Elections:
1. Facebook is lagging: Firstly, Facebook hasn’t been as aggressive as Google and Twitter in terms of getting politicians to interact on the site. While Google’s team has been working on Hangouts with politicians for a couple of years now, Twitter’s Rishi Jaitly has been meeting political parties to help them understand how to use the platform. That mandate is now with Raheel Khursheed, who was recently hired by the company as its Head of News, Politics and Government. What has Facebook done so far?
Secondly, Facebook doesn’t have a platform like Hangout for video based interactions, or YouTube for publishing videos. In fact, political parties like the BJP have now started conducting their own hangouts, without active support from Google now. In comparison with Twitter, communities on Facebook are no longer as effective as they used to be, because Facebook tried to limit reach of updates with the intent of trying to get community owners to pay to enhance reach. Facebook might have 93 million users, but Facebook fans, once something that brands used to issue press releases about, but hardly matter provide any engagement. In comparison with the combined platform that Google Hangouts and YouTube provides, and the reach of Twitter, Facebook is an inferior media platform. Their approach to this event: It is going to open up for questions for candidates at facebook.com/FacebookIndia on February 20, 2014, and Newslaundry’s Madhu Trehan will ask those questions on FBtalkslive when it is telecast live. So much for real-time.
That said, it is still a better social networking platform than Twitter for personal communication, given that amount of political noise on Twitter these days has reached unbearable proportions – my attempt at #NoPoliticalTweets day a couple of days ago failed miserably. The trolls waiting to attack those who criticise their favorite political candidate don’t help either. That is less likely on Facebook, so it remains a better social network than a media platform.
2. The lure of Social Media: Twitter’s follower count has its own issues, and much of that base might be dormant. However, given that Twitter is an open platform and it works for politicians in two ways: firstly, the amplification it provides via retweets, and more importantly, the mainstream media is on the platform and they tend to track the updates. The mainstream media publications constantly track what is trending on Twitter, and incorporation of commentary on the platform is now common on news shows. Neither Google nor Facebook command that kind of influence. Influence begets influence, and if you ask a politician about which of the three platforms they would rather be on, it is likely that they would choose Twitter. Apart from a few instances, Facebook appears to lack the virality that it once had.
3. Important for the future: Firstly, the use of Social Media in these elections is going to increase: it has given politicians like Jay Panda, Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Milind Deora to become far more visible that they would otherwise have been through traditional media, and their approach to the medium (and that of Narendra Modi and Omar Abdullah, who would have got this visibility even without Social Media) is going to form a template for the future. There’s an opportunity for these platforms to bring more politicians online.
That becomes important for the platform because once politicians become comfortable with it, and understand its benefits and challenges, they are far more empathetic towards what might appear to be otherwise gross instances of verbal abuse. If they don’t experience it, they tend to think it is mostly evil. Getting politicians to use Social Media is an important part of the policy initiatives.