The Congress party launched a Twitter campaign on Saturday with the hashtag “kivi mele hoova” (flower on the ear). This follows party leaders wearing marigolds on their ears during Prime Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s budget presentation to Friday’s assembly. The party has claimed that the Karnataka budget for 2023 is an “eyewash”.
As assembly elections draw near, political parties have stepped up their campaigns on social media.
Using data analytics, they drive a variety of online content, be it Twitter hashtags, Instagram videos or WhatsApp. Parties use humor and sarcasm to attract and hold people’s attention in virtual space.
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Of the 5.1 million voters in Karnataka, about 2 million are on Facebook, 3.35 million on WhatsApp and 1.12 million on Instagram. More than 4.5 million voters are on any social media platform, says former Chittapur minister and MLA Priyank Kharge, head of communications for the KPCC, citing data available to his party.
Congress, which had attacked the government with claims of “40% commission on public works,” had previously developed the “PayCM” hashtag. It also pasted posters with Bommai’s face and a QR code on them, leaving the CM red-faced.
The use of social media gained prominence after the 2014 general election, says Vijay Rao, Chief Relationships Officer at Rajneethi Political Management Consultants. However, content consumption has changed over the years. What works today is audiovisual content within 30 seconds. The message has to be strong and short, he says.
Twitter works with urban voters, while political parties use Facebook and WhatsApp to reach rural voters. The JD(S), which has a huge rural electoral base, is dependent on Facebook and YouTube, according to the party’s social media chief, Pratap Kanagal.
Parties also often find themselves trying to set the narrative straight when leaders are making controversial statements.
JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy recently fueled controversy by claiming that Union Minister Pralhad Joshi was the BJP’s CM candidate for the 2023 assembly elections.
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Unlike Brahmins, who are native to Karnataka, Joshi comes from the Peshwa Brahmin community, which tends to incite violence and is supported by the RSS, he charged. Soon the JD(S) warrooms posted posts to make it clear that Kumaraswamy was not “anti-Brahmin”. They have a war room in each constituency of the congregation, Kanagal says.
The Aam Aadmi Party was one of the first to use social media for campaigning with its India Against Corruption movement.
However, social media platforms have become commercialized over time and expensive, says Prithvi Reddy, AAP’s state chair.
“It’s not affordable for parties working on a budget. You have to invest money to promote and push content on these platforms.” To create an affordable solution, AAP relies on “missed call” campaigns and interactive voice response (IVR) campaigns to engage people in their network.
“Once they are part of our network, we can spread information through WhatsApp groups,” he says.
“Our primary strategy is to use social media for positive campaigns. We will use short videos, live videos and infographics to convey our development agenda. Congress and JD(S) have no bottom and so they come up with stupid online campaigns. We don’t need to attack any other party as we have enough achievements to present to the public,” Vikas Puttur, Head of BJP Karnataka Digital Media Cell.