There were over two billion social media users worldwide—with Indians accounting for about 168 million—in 2016, as per reports. Social networking already accounts for 28% of all media time spent online—users aged between 15 and 19 years spend about three hours a day on an average on sites such as Twitter and Facebook around the world. These figures speak for themselves. Today, we can’t think of a single day (nay, a few hours, or a few minutes maybe) without the consumption of social media despite fears of disruption of privacy. We use sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram not just to pass time or entertain ourselves, but also to spread awareness, pass information and create wealth.
In his latest book, India Social, computer engineer-turned-activist/politician (and now author) Ankit Lal writes about this mass e-movement called social media and how it helped shape India’s policies in the past decade or so. Lal, who helmed the social media efforts for the Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign in 2012 and later spearheaded the digital presence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), takes readers on a gripping and insightful journey through some of the most successful social media campaigns that the country has seen in recent times. Lal begins his book by recounting the horrors of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008 and how the event marked the initiation of social media, particularly Twitter, into India. “For the first time in India, social media took centre stage and became one of the key sources of information dissemination…,” he writes.
But back then, social media was not very popular even outside the country, with major sites like Twitter registering just about a million users worldwide, with about two lakh users who were active at least once a week and exchanged three million tweets per day. In 2016, the figure stood at a whopping 319 million monthly active users. Facebook, too, was taking baby steps then; WhatsApp was not even born. The author then shares his own experience as a social media strategist to highlight the beginnings of the game-changing IAC movement, and the subsequent elections fought and won by the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP. “This was the first Indian election where social media was being used extensively… AAP’s social media outreach had made political participation ‘trendy’,” he writes.
While commenting on politics, Lal also writes about successful social media campaigns such as #Mufflerman (it was initiated to counter the mockery being made of Kejriwal’s image after his resignation from the Delhi CM’s post within 49 days in 2014) that ended up trending for 19 days— a record for a Twitter hashtag. Then there was #Donate4RT, through which AAP collected Rs 17 lakh in just three days. Despite being associated with AAP, Lal doesn’t shy away from narrating the brilliant use of social media by a rival party such as the BJP during the 2014 general elections. “… This is not an opponent’s view, but rather an examination of what the BJP did right and how it utilised its social media skills to the hilt,” he explains. And in doing so, Lal also talks about prominent campaigners, such as Prashant Kishor who is credited with engineering the 2014 BJP victory and, later, the Nitish Kumar victory in Bihar.
The chapter on politicians landing themselves in trouble due to gaffes on social media also makes for an interesting read. Lal then changes track to include the role of social media as a tool for social change. For instance, he highlights the 2012 Nirbhaya episode of Delhi, which “gave expression to the latent fury of the common people, and forced them to burst out onto the streets in protest”, he writes. Equally uplifting is the story of acid attack awareness crusader Laxmi Dixit, herself a victim of the heinous crime, who took the help of social media to connect with other victims, as well as people sympathetic to the cause, besides discussing campaign ideas and generating donations.
The author also does a good job in highlighting and raising concerns about burning issues such as net neutrality (#SavetheInternet) and data security (#Aadhaar). He also writes about social media helping in rescue efforts after a natural disaster (a case in point is the 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods that first saw such a mobilisation on a large scale). The chapters are written in a crisp manner, and the content shows the thorough research that has gone into the book. It’s a timely read, considering the social media revolution that has shaped and reshaped the country in the past few years.
Kunal Doley is a freelancer