Saturday, 28 December 2013

Hope lies in heresy!

In the recent past, the entire world has witnessed a panoply of political turnarounds. We've had the middle east where demagogues reigning over ages were ostracized from their thrones as well as states, and we've also had an indigenous example in the from of Delhi where the reminisce of a revolution out-powered the hardened stallions and emerged as an untrammeled force to reckon with. Barring the respective locations, all these revolutions and the ensuing results had one thing in common - Excessive impact of social media on creation of awareness.

The entire Arab Spring commenced when the news of sacrificial self immolation of a youth spread over the Internet like fire. The authorities tried to keep the news discreet, but it was all too little and all too tale. The public demeanor had already assumed the character and the proportion. They all needed a change and the only change they collectively perceived possible, was ousting the existing anarchy through brute force and sacrifice. On the other hand, Delhi saw hope in an alternate political solution. They considered handing the bastion to a nascent but promising party which they considered worthy enough of giving a chance. Both revolutions gathered massive impetus from an outrageous promotion strategy on social media. The youth was all revved up with these prospects of heterodoxy and all that controlled social fanaticism culminated in people taking control of of their future and making things act at their behest. Eventually, it was technology which polarized people and brought them at the fore of bringing the change they always dreamt of bringing. Now as we approach the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, I guess it's time when we take that phenomenon a step ahead.

The aforementioned premise is extremely germane given the current state of Indian politics. We have anti-incumbency but we still have odious voter turnouts. We have enthusiasm amongst the youth, but we have a entire host of people who don't know about their local contestant. In a nutshell, people are either not aware of the solutions they have at their disposal, or they are not even aware of the very inimical powers that this grand democracy of ours has vested in them. Term it indolence or remiss, but people certainly are far far away from being at a juncture where they can make judicious use of their powers and prevent their own alter egos from cribbing the system for the the entire tenor of the government. Despite mediums like television and newspapers, we still have people who don't vote or don't know whom they are voting for. It's about time we make them a more comprehensive part of the whole scenario than just merely asking them to come out and vote.

Social mobile apps have a role to play in this fiasco we have. We have mediums like loudspeakers whose only job is to spread din, and then we have these omnipresent social mobile apps which allow us to communicate precisely and concisely and in various modes like text, pictures and even clips. This makes such apps like WeChat extremely conducive to promoting your agenda. For a crowd with heavy social mobile apps penetration, just imagine the kind of coverage we can expect. Instead of having loudspeakers spread cacophony, we will have media messages clearly communicating a 3-4 minute agenda of a contestant's local as well as the broad agenda of his/her party's political ideology. With the kind of location sensing capabilities we now have in our mobile networks, we can even have targeted messages such that a political party simply has to broadcast various media messages pertaining to each of their individual contestants, and the relevant messages shall reach the intended recipients automatically. We obviously need some intervention from the social mobile app in itself, but the process is very simple.

Social mobile apps like WeChat will have to ask various political parties to submit to them a list of their official accounts on the requisite platform. WeChat, say, will have to verify such accounts just like verification takes place in Facebook and Twitter for public personality accounts. Once this is done, WeChat will leverage on its location sensing ability to suggest every party's local WeChat verified account or the regional/national account(If a local account is not present) to the various WeChat users when they look for friend suggestions. A social mobile app could also choose to place such suggestions on the top or send notifications regarding such verified political party accounts one time to every user in order to create a larger impact. The pecuniary aspects should be elucidated just like they are done in case of election rallies. Hence by opening verified accounts, various political parties would get another relevant medium for reaching their audiences. 

Coming to the realm of such a promotion and awareness strategy, let's envisage the benefits it shall bring. One, only a paltry percentage of the voter base attends an election rally. People are either too engaged or too afraid to attend such rallies full of commotion and plagued with not so convenient features. Hence such people would now come under the ambit of a political party's message as now even they would be aware of what their local leadership has to say about their problems and their prospective solutions. Secondly, we live in a world where we have more affinity towards "Push" medium than "Pull" medium. "Pull" media includes generic advertisements which we tend to ignore. i.e a Congress or BJP advertisement aired on a TV or radio channel has nothing to do with what's pertinent in your very region and hence sees much less an impact than what can be reached. On the other hand, the "Push media", courtesy of individualized messages customized for your own locality and covering problems prevalent in and around your own residence, would be much more efficacious than the former. Not only a user offers more attention span to an individual message, the process also helps the user get acquainted with possible solutions for problems more relevant in his/her own context. Hence this will be a win-win situation for the parties, which now would be able to expand their reach, the people who now know more about their options, and eventually, it will be a pro for the democracy whose very purpose is to bring people closer to the contenders they have to choose from..

Like every thing else, this system too would be susceptible. One thing is that certain parties might surreptitiously try to send messages which lack truth and hence go unnoticed and thereby effect capricious voting in the death stages of a voting process. Secondly, some effort should go in making sure that once the tenure for promoting a candidate has finished, then in accordance with the election code of conduct, such messages would have to come to a cessation. This shouldn't be very difficult as such accounts relating to parties can always be treated separately and hence their accesses and permissions could be seized and revoked as an when it's needed, Thirdly,the whole intent for doing this exercise should be to make sure we get higher and more impeccable turnouts than without it and hence every party's verified account should be mandatorily made to send certain generic voting related messages which would do nothing but make people aware of the repercussions of not casting votes. In fact, this whole approach could be made more effective by allowing the Election Commission too to leverage the ever growing reach of social mobile apps and hence bring more thrust to its primordial purpose of making more people vote through targeted communication. Once implemented, such a scheme can do wonders in ensuring higher voting percentages and hence a more effective democracy.