As part of Thursday’s Google Big Tent Activate event in New Delhi, we witnessed a vibrant panel discussion on “The Role of the Internet in Indian Politics.” Moderated by NDTV’s Barkha Dutt (@bdutt), the panel featured Minister of State Shashi Tharoor (@shashitharoor), J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar), and Stephanie Cutter (@stefcutter) discussing how Indian politicians, and politics, have been impacted by social media.
Here’s what we learned:
1) It might as well have been called ‘The Role of the Twitter in Indian Politics.’ The vast majority of the conversation focused on Twitter, drawing attention to how Indian politicians have embraced the 140 character announcement.
2) The Facts Add Context – While Stephanie Cutter recounted the amazing social media practices of the Obama campaign team, we were consistently reminded that only 12% of the Indian population is on social media. This is why only a few Indian politicians see value in social media.
3) With all the talk about the dreaded gaffes, the “cattle class,” and quickly deleted tweets, one understands the mindset that keeps so many Indian politicians away from the treacherous Twitter minefield.
4) Tharoor and Abdullah agreed that “Twitter was not as much fun as it used to be.” They used to tweet about eating cake at midnight. Now they agree that Twitter is no place for jokes. How sad for the rest of us.
5) Social Media Does and Doesn’t Matter – Social media penetration is too low to impact elections and is ignored when “important” political decisions need to be made. Still, the “cattle class” comment lost – and continues to lose – Tharoor votes.
6) The “Fine Line” – There is, in the mind of the Indian politicians on stage, a fine line and balance between freedom of speech and regulation. The idea of the “greater good” and neutralizing poorly motivated opponents wafted through the room. Omar Abdullah says he never blocked the internet in Kashmir, it “just slowed down.” The audience laughs, then cringes.
Written by Kunal Pal for Image Management