Campaigning for Election, One WhatsApp Forward at a Time
For political parties WhatsApp is the new word of mouth.
For political parties WhatsApp is the new word of mouth.(Photo: iStock)

Campaigning for Election, One WhatsApp Forward at a Time

A short video showcasing the BJP leaders who allegedly consume or endorse beef was among the contents of the Karnataka Congress’ latest online campaign against the BJP. The video is among a series of the short videos produced by both the BJP and the Congress party, to take a dig at each other.

The congress began with a series with their video ‘recipe for disaster’, a satirical video on Yogi Adityanath’s governance. The BJP countered it with another video, the beef biryani, which took a dig at Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, for not banning cow slaughter in the state.

The latest video ‘Karnataka Beef Party’ comes as a response to BJP’s video, and portrays Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and Minister for State (Home) Kiren Rijiju among others as supporters and endorsers of beef consumption.

While these videos have been released on the Twitter and Facebook, both political parties expect these videos to do their job on WhatsApp. According to social media cells of both parties, more than social media sites, which are prominent in the urban areas, WhatsApp has more reach in rural part of the state.

According to them, WhatsApp is the modern day word of mouth.

The WhatsApp Armies

Several months before the election campaigns began in full scale, the BJP and the Congress began creating WhatsApp groups for spreading their parties’ message. According to sources in the BJP’s IT cell, there are more than 7,000 WhatsApp groups active across the state. Even though the numbers were not disclosed, the Congress too is running WhatsApp groups in all the constituencies in the state.

According to parties, the rural parts of the state WhatsApp is effective than Facebook or Twitter .
According to parties, the rural parts of the state WhatsApp is effective than Facebook or Twitter .
(Photo: Arun Dev/The Quint)

If Karnataka BJP’s twitter account has 1.32 followers as on January 2018, the reach of their WhatsApp community is much more than that. “Each group has around 100 members and total number of members across the state would cross over 7 lakhs. 100 is the minimum numbers, in most of the groups the numbers go beyond,” said a member of BJP IT cell.

The volunteer further explained that those who are part of these groups are members or followers of BJP. Once these members share the content with their contacts, the trickle-down effect makes the audience of these forwards much more than 7 lakhs. “In a rural area more than Facebook and Twitter, WhatsApp works,” he added.

A Systematic Process

The WhatsApp campaigning has been a well-oiled machine. Taking their cue from the BJP’s WhatsApp campaign during the Uttar Pradesh election campaign, both parties have set committees to monitor the WhatsApp activities.

The Congress and the BJP has set up teams in state, districts and booth levels to monitor their activities. “These committees ensure that a content customised to the region. The content for Bengaluru will be different from the content for Coastal Karnataka,” said the BJP volunteers.

According to the members of the Congress’s social media team, WhatsApp has been essential in telling people what the Karnataka government has done. However, in the recent times, WhatsApp has been used as a tool to counter the misinformation spread by the opposition.

“People have begun to trust whatever they see on WhatsApp, so it has become essential for us to use the same platform to counter these rumours,” said a senior member of the Karnataka Congress’s social media team.

The Smear Campaigns

Although both parties claimed the WhatsApp networks are used for spreading the party’s message, it has become a medium for smear campaigns. Recently, the Congress party took objection to the video, they claimed circulated by BJP, which showed several videos of Siddaramaiah posing for selfies with women. “These videos were manipulated with vulgar background music to show the chief minister in a bad manner,” alleged the social media team for the Congress.

Even BJP claims that that morphed photo of Yeddyurappa has been circulated on WhatsApp to malign him. However, both parties enjoy immunity, as unlike Twitter and Facebook, there is little scrutiny of these WhatsApp messages.

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