Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
Though political campaigns entered social media platforms during general elections in 2014 and 2019, the target audience remained in a low scale in India. But a Google-Kantar report indicates that the internet consumer base in the country by 2023 reached above 75 crore active users, those who practice their online presence at least once in a month. An increase in the number of internet-connected voters will naturally drive election campaigns into an online environment during general elections in 2024. Notification issued by the Government of Rajasthan for the empanelment of social-media influencers for issuing advertisements to spread the message about its welfare schemes, a first of its kind, picturised the possible future in the field.
A survey conducted by ‘The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’ of Oxford University in India during January – February 2023 revealed that 53 percent of internet consumers accessed news on YouTube, 51 percent on WhatsApp, 39 percent on Instagram and 20 percent each on Twitter and Telegram in India. It is evident that the heavy presence of voters on social-media platforms has turned the same to be a favourable ground for the election campaign for forthcoming elections.
Assembly elections in Rajasthan is scheduled to be held during the first week of December 2023. It is expected that the model code of conduct is likely to be enforced during November, three weeks ahead of the elections. Taking into consideration of the timetable, the ruling government has taken up the steps to announce its advertisement policy for social media to reach the general public about the state government’s achievements. After the implementation of the model code of conduct by the Election Commission publication of advertisements through government spending will be debarred.
Social-media advertisement notifications inviting applications for ‘expression of interest’ categorized influencers into four groups. Influencers are active in social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, etc. with above 10 lakh subscribers or followers will be considered as Category A, five lahks as Category B, one lakh as Category C and upto 10,000 subscribers or followers will be identified as Category D.
The Government of Rajasthan will issue advertisements to such empanelled influencers who choose to propagate government schemes and programmes. Influencers of Category A will be released advertisements worth five lahks a month, Category B up to two lakhs, Category C up to Rs 50,000 and Category D up to Rs 10,000. To avail of the assignment the social-media influencers need to apply in prescribed format to the Information and Public Relations Directorate. To establish their competence, the applicants should have posted 100 videos on 150 posts for Category A, 60 videos or 100 posts for Category B, 30 videos or 50 posts for Category C and 15 videos or 30 posts by Category D during the past six months. However, the selection committee appointed by the government will have the power to grant relaxations to otherwise suitable applicants in this regard.
A review of the social-media advertisement policy of the Government of Rajasthan in the pre-Assembly elections 2023 season highlights a few assumptions. First, during the past decade mushroom growth of print and television platforms, a decrease in income in comparison to spending and ownership issues resulted in the loss of public faith among traditional media outlets.. Such an environment gave rise to hyper-local social media influencers as alternative news and views sources. In the social-media ecosystem, merely one or two percent of influencers make enough money, while 98 to 99 percent rely on personal preference, philanthropy, or sponsorship. Offer by the government to exhibit advertisements along with their content for money may appear lucrative.
Secondly, the exercise of placement of government advertisements along with their work may turn to be a cause to diminish the originality of content created by the social-media influencers. Public-faith built investing hard work for a prolonged period may face casualties. For obvious reasons, a major portion of print and television platforms lost public-faith supporting government perspectives during Covid and Post-Covid pandemic era. While they are not able to relieve themselves out of the vicious circle of government advertisement revenue and partisan reporting, the present effort by the government appears as a cage set to trap social media influencers to face a similar situation.
Thirdly, the government may offer advertisements to the social-media influencers for a period of three months. Thus one time earnings will be meagre but the collateral damage to reputation will be enormous. The policy authored by the Government of Rajasthan may influence other state governments facing elections during 2024 to replicate the model of releasing advertisements to social-media influencers in addition to print and television platforms. A question arises, who will be benefitted out of the development, government or social-media influencers?
Generally, the social-media influencers build up communities of followers in their social-media handles. The relationship between the source and the audience is cordial and the audience gives importance to the information provided by the source. The government intends to utilize the trustful environment to propagate its messages. Several months before the attempt by the Government of Rajasthan, ‘YouGov’ an initiative by the Electronics and Information Technology ministry of the Government of India attempted a similar effort for the empanelment of influencer marketing agencies during March 2023.
As a part of the ‘Digital India’ initiative, the central government is continuing efforts to publicize the public welfare programmes through ‘YouGov’ since 2014. Its activities extended to 21 states countrywide. To rope in social-media influencer marketing agencies, they are divided into four categories to take part in the ‘request for empanelment’ exercise. Influencers who have attained above 10 lakh subscribers or followers were identified as Category A, one lakh to 10 lakh as Category B, 10,000 to one lakh as Category C and one thousand to 10 thousand as Category D. The empanelment ment to be effective for next three years.
The impact of social-media in campaigning for democratic elections in India was evident from 2014. But more than half of the votors will be present in the social-media platforms and stay online for a lengthy time period on daily basis during 2024. Moreover, they choose their trusted influencers for the supply of content. Additionally, online consumers increasingly access content published in newspapers and television through links in the social-media platforms. All such developments highlight the relevance of social-media and influencer–led alternative media. Entry of government agencies and political parties into social-media through influencers may result in major disruptions.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on July 07, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-309
It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Mohan, Archis. ‘Influencers’ hog limelight in poll season. Business Standard (Bhubaneswar Edition). June 30, 2023
Request for Empanelment (RFE) for selection of Influencer Marketing Agencies for Empanelment with MyGov