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Getting snappy: Congress to use social media to reach out








New Delhi, Feb 3 (IANS) Getting snappy with quick responses on Twitter and Facebook to social media criticism is likely to be part of the Congress party's new outreach strategy, according to a party report being drafted.

Most leaders of the ruling Congress, including newly-appointed party vice president Rahul Gandhi, are not into tweeting or posting updates on Facebook - the tool of the new generation. Online criticism of the party and the government is generally not responded to. But this is likely to change.

"We need a system to spot trends (on social media) and respond to them so that the views of the opposition do not influence the people," Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh, who heads the sub-group, told IANS.

The sub-group was formed last month after the country saw youth-driven flash mob protests demanding strong laws to curb corruption and crimes against women, jolting both the party and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.

The group was set up after it realised the growing role of online platforms in influencing public opinion. The group is expected to submit its draft report to Rahul Gandhi soon.

Party sources said the points covered in the draft report will be fine tuned by Rahul Gandhi and would be dovetailed into the Congress's publicity strategy for the 2014 general elections. While Rahul Gandhi heads the party's coordination panel for the 2014 polls, Digvijaya Singh heads the sub-committee on publicity and communication.

Rahul Gandhi has 117,685 followers on Twitter, but has posted only 15 tweets so far. His Twitter account is protected. Digvijaya Singh is more tweet savvy. He has over 42,000 followers on the social network and has posted over 1,000 tweets. Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari's twitter account is protected as well. Milind Deora is also a tweeter, with over 1,145 tweets and more than 52,000 followers.

Congress sources said the party must gear up to face the growing influence of social media in creating public opinion and the participation of youth in it.

"There is no need to fear the social media...it is a tool available to all," said a senior Congress leader, who is involved with new media issues and did not wish to be named.

"The trick is to use the same platform to generate criticism of such content so that the person who has posted it is forced to withdraw," the leader told IANS, requesting anonymity.

"This is a better way to contain an offensive post on the social media than crying hoarse over it," he said.

Party leaders said most workers carry smartphones nowadays and can easily post online messages instantly if asked to.

The government had admitted it was not fully prepared to deal with flash mobs, who gathered at huge numbers at India Gate and then sustained a more than one-month-long protest at Jantar Mantar.

The sustained protests by students to demand stronger rape laws was due to the social media. Many invited friends through Facebook and Twitter to join in the protests.

The Congress feels the time has come to plan a strategy to be able to communicate with the net-savvy younger generation.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had said: "Flash mob is a new phenomenon... sometimes they gather to dance and sing, but sometimes they can gather to protest also... we need to take note of it... I don't think we are fully prepared to deal with it... we need to devise SOPs (standard operating procedures)."

Delegates at the Congress's Chintan Shivir introspection-cum-strategy session at Jaipur Jan 18-20 spent hours discussing ways to deal with the phenomenon of flash mobs.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at amit.a@ians.in)

 
Amit Agnihotri

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