The rise of social media influencers has engineered significant shifts in the political media landscape in India. As politicians and parties build small social media empires of their own, they increasingly rely on a range of celebrities and influencers to help further their political agenda. Using evidence from India, I show that digital influencers, with little or no presence outside of social media, have come to be more important than traditional celebrities like entertainers and sportspersons in shaping public opinion online. Such influencers are more likely to be put out polarizing content and engage in hateful speech, but also more beholden to political parties and their support base. As more media houses get slotted into political ideological corners, politicians increasingly use influencers both to amplify content and to engage in outreach traditionally reserved for professional journalists, such as campaign period interviews. With the affordances of network based virality and voter targeting based on profile, this trend poses challenges to the quality of democratic debate and accountability of India. In conclusion, I argue that social media behavior of politicians in India should be considered a sign of trends to come in the US 2024 election campaign online.
This seminar is co-organized with UW Change.
Joyojeet Pal is an Associate Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Previously, he served as Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research India, where he was part of the Technology for Emerging Markets group and started a group studying Social Media and Society. His research has covered the use of social media in mainstream politics and shown ways in which social media has emerged as a dominant force in political outreach, and in turn, institutional capture. In the past, Joyojeet has been a visiting scholar at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology University of Tokyo in 2013, and at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University in 2015.