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May 21, 2014

Book Review: The Big Connect

Text by Nittal Chandarana

Done with the Great Indian Elections 2014? Not quite yet, you may want to read award-winning journalist Shaili Chopra’s latest offering, The Big Connect, where she talks about the efficient use of social media by the leading politicians

Hot Read The Big Connect
Author Shaili Chopra
Publisher Random house India

What it is ‘Politics in the Age of Social Media’ is what it says on the cover. This is really a handbook for an insight into the state of politics and other big-ticket affairs in the world of social media. How you could be the ‘most followed’ but also the most hated Twitter celebrity. How, while it is a convenient medium, tables can turn against you with one click of the mouse. It also looks at the social media presence of the leading parties for the recently concluded Great Indian Elections 2014.

Maybe Not Too many quotes, therefore, too many references. We would have preferred more of the author’s views than statements from the Internet.

Caught our eye “Britain’s David Cameron was among those who were cautious about what he called the ‘instantness’ and early use of Twitter as a political tool, famously telling a radio show in 2009, when he was leader of the opposition, that ‘too many tweets might make a twat.’ His views may have altered somewhat now he is on Twitter.” We like!

The Big Review For anyone wanting to know more about the Big Bad World of Social Media and trace landmark events across its timeline, it’s a no-brainer.

Q&A with the author, Shaili Chopra

Q1. Where did the idea for The Big Connect come from?
SC: I love the power of social media. The ability to express, connect, engage and network makes the medium the single most influential communication in our lives today. As someone interested in technology, I was intrigued to see how much of it our politicians were willing to experiment with. How our democracy reflected a unique trend that older politicians managed followers like pied pipers. Where personal life threatens to mix with public and politics, where politicians are whipped by their voters and critics, how the democracy evolves with every tweet and post – all this made for fascinating research. Polls and trolls, the massive vitriolic, elections with names like Kejriwal and Modi and the polarised followings in millions. And above all of these, the lack of any book in the market on the impact of social media on politics!

Q2. Do you think ancient methods of connecting with the public will completely fade away?
SC: No methods will fade away, social media will find a way to integrate itself with what are boombox bhaashans, rallies, rath yatras and more. A post tells people where the rally is, Facebook and Twitter mobilise crowds, people live-tweet the speeches from there or post and pin pictures, someone checks in with Four Square to share locations. This may sound like an urban setting for now but it’s already changing. I think what’s important is that online world will improve communication in the offline world of politics.

Q3. According to you, which is the most effective social media platform?
SC: I think for politics, Twitter is strong because it allows quick consumption of a story, it’s short and succinct, and leaders prefer it because it’s not as personal as Facebook. However, I think this election has a lot of new voters, young people all of who are watching their ‘walls’ and getting influenced by ‘friends’ and so surely Facebook – with over a 100 million Indians using it – remains a colossal might as well. What’s interesting about your question is that going forward leaders will need to choose their tools effectively. Politicians don’t need to be on all social media for the same issue. They need to use them depending on their message – whether it comes with videos, a photograph, a quote and so on.

Q4. In the political sphere, who do you think has made optimum use of social media nationally and internationally?
SC: I think Modi and Kejriwal have done a brilliant job with their digital strategy. Perhaps Modi even better than BJP, which seemed to have been eclipsed by the Modi Internet brigade. From #PappuvsFeku and making the hashtag a part of all lives, to the Chaiwala campaign and the brilliant selfie act. I think all these have contributed to suggesting that there is some strategy in place. Kejriwal used social media to raise money and membership and that’s commendable for a party that’s just a year or so old. This answer would be incomplete without mentioning Barack Obama and FLOTUS.

Q5. What are a few of your favourite posts or tweets?
SC: Narendra Modi’s dig at Arvind Kejriwal with the AK-49 about his 49-day stint in power in Delhi. Also tweets around #RahulSkipsPMDinner when Rahul Gandhi didn’t attend the farewell for Manmohan Singh. Also, Shirish Kunder’s ‘Arnab: Is all well between you and PM? Rahul: All is farewell. #RahulSkipsDinner’.

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