I wrote this write-up for a research journal during May 2012. I am now publishing it on my blog in parts.
2011 MASS UPRISINGS: SOCIAL MEDIA TRENDS - PART-IV
Anna Hazare was not a household name before April 2011 – with limited appeal in Maharashtra. The April fast gave him a pan-India presence and the August fast made him a household name, at least in the urban and small town India. The movement needed the name Anna Hazare to be brought to the national consciousness. But the organizers did not have time; did not have expertise; and they did not have the manpower to connect the dots by carrying out the ground exercise across the length and breadth of India.
They found an alternative in the rapidly widening base of the social media tools in the country especially among the youth. So the front organization, ‘India Against Corruption’ started doing the background work once it was formed in 2010. The necessary push came from the mainstream attention.
In the run-up to the proposed fast from April 5 onwards, Anna slowly came to gain media attention as Team Anna had already started its public relations exercise but media attention was not significant enough due to continuous coverage of the Cricket World Cup 2011. Once the World Cup was over, every media outfit was in search of the next big news story. By then the Commonwealth Games scam had lost its steam. And a proposed indefinite fast by a veteran social activist with a proven record of getting his demands for social well being accepted after he went on protest fasts, was an interesting news story in development.
And so, every media outfit was onto it when Anna Hazare began his fast on April 5. And yes, it began with a strategy in place. A team of volunteers, media management dictums and social networking extensions were already in place.
Much has been written on the remarkable media management by Team Anna and indeed it was an adept execution since the very beginning before it fizzled out owing to the internal issues of the movement. It is this management of the mainstream media that later on created the required base for the social media platforms to operate independently. Social media was going to be a significant channel to maintain the movement that didn’t do much in terms of subsequent ground level mobilization. Let’s first see what the social media trends were during the April fast.
Soon enough, the social media angle raised its head. After a quiet Tuesday, when television channels began to “play up” the protests, Wednesday morning saw social media platforms abuzz with chatter. Initiated by campaign organisers, the India Against Corruption team, Facebook profile badges, missed call campaigns and petitions (most notably on online campaign site Avaaz (where over 6.17 lakh have registered support) entered the scene.
By April 7, third day of his fast, Facebook had over 100 pages dedicated to Anna Hazare and the Lokpal movement attracting over 2,00,000 ‘likes’ in just two days. #Anna Hazare, #corruption, and #Jantar Mantar had become the top trending words and phrases on Twitter. Any simple search on YouTube could take one across hundreds of recently uploaded videos. Hundreds of related YouTube videos scaled up to become thousands when Anna broke his fast on April 9. “I estimate that, between all the Facebook pages, Twitter mentions and missed calls, between 10 to 20 lakh people have supported it,” noted social media analysts Gaurav Mishra on online trends related to the April fast of Anna Hazare after it was wrapped up. Another significant development of the time in the online sphere was the ‘famous’ hacker group ‘Anonymous’ hacking the website of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) in support of the anti-corruption movement that tell about the global appeal of the movement.
The August fast is the same story that resulted due to the government dilly-dallying and backtracking on its promise. Though slowed down – from April to August – the online activity by the organizers of the Jan Lokapl movement never stopped. They kept refueling the social media buzz using the intermittent incidents as assassination attempts on democracy. Details of every meeting of the joint committee, verbal duels between the government and Team Anna members and high-profile arrests like Kanimozhi in the 2G scam provided fodder for the social media buzz keeping the youth base intact.