Presentation by Joyojeet Pal.
In the last decade, social media has become central to the outreach strategies of political actors across party lines in India. This has removed professional journalists from the work of mediating politicians’ content to the citizenry, and instead allowed politicians to pick and choose when, how and how much to communicate, with the intermediaries they choose. This development has intersected with the increasing political engagement of social media influencers who represent or speak to a range of constituencies including travel, entertainment, finance, fitness, healthcare. This session examines the intersection of online influencers with political actors in India from the 2013 campaign to the present day, where a significant presence of influencers in political content is a given in most election cycles. This presentation shows how we see a new ‘spiral of silence’ in which traditional celebrities in sports and entertainment fear cancellation or political targeting if they speak on politics without party blessings. While this reinforces the value of digital influencers to political parties, it also creates conditions for co-dependence with a politician wielding a distinct upper hand.