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India Media 'Atwitter' Over UC Davis Study on How Tweets Shaped Country's 2014 Election

A recent Department of Communication study on Twitter's role in world's largest election has captured the attention of newspapers and radio talk shows across India.

“Twitter is fast turning into an effective political tool...and perhaps rightly so, for a recently published study of the 2014 general elections indicates that the more you tweet, the brighter are your chances of winning,” notes The Telegraph, a leading newspaper in Calcutta, India, in a recent article titled “All atwitter”.

The study by communication doctoral student Saifuddin “Saif” Ahmed, his faculty adviser, Associate Professor Jaeho Cho, and colleague Kokil Jaidka of Adobe Research, India, found that the victors in the parliamentary elections were the most active tweeters.

The researchers analyzed 98,363 tweets posted by 11 political parties during a two-month run up to the election—which, with 814.5 million eligible voters, was the largest-ever election in the world.

Among their findings:

  • The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the election winner, used Twitter to post campaign updates and scrutinize other political parties.
  • BJP posted the second-highest proportion of self-promotional tweets, as well as the highest absolute number of such tweets.
  • New-and-upcoming parties, in contrast, used Twitter for media validation.

“The 2014 general election was the first time social media was being used for electoral campaigning in India and hence the disparity in usage between parties,” Ahmed told The Telegraph. “The next general elections would be a different game as most of the parties would be well-prepared going by the success of BJP’s 2014 social media campaign.”

More recently, Ahmed was interviewed in a live talk show by All India Radio Calcutta to discuss the study’s findings and implications for the ongoing elections in the Indian state of West Bengal.

Slightly more than one-third of Indians have Internet access, compared to nearly 89 percent of Americans. However, Twitter is gaining popularity in India, with nearly half of Internet users on Twitter, Ahmed said. “By sheer number of users subscribed to Twitter (worldwide), India ranks as No. 6 in the list.”

Ahmed said the study, published in the March issue of the journal "Telematics and Informatics," points to the importance of Web 2.0 technologies in contemporary political landscapes, with their ability of social media to spread conversation users to users.

“So politicians, irrespective of which party they belong to or how much campaign fund they have, can freely distribute information or have interaction with the media or the public by just a few clicks,” he said. “Politicians are no more solely dependent on the amount of campaign fund or their relationships with journalists and the media to communicate with citizens.”

Read more about the study

“The 2014 Indian elections on Twitter: A comparison of campaign strategies of political parties,” Telematics and Informatics, Vol. 33, Issue 4, November 2016, 1071-1087.

“All atwitter” The Telegraph (Calcutta, India), 10 April 2016

“2014 showed the power of Twitter, now every Indian politician wants a handle,” Abplive.in, 10 April 2016