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AAP's Facebook Page Signals A Silent Media Revolution That No One Saw Coming

06/01/2017 3:05 PM IST | Updated 06/01/2017 3:10 PM IST

The Aam Aadmi Party's national Facebook page reach recently crossed 150 million users (15 crores). This is not new. We have been the biggest political social media page in the world at regular intervals, beating the US Democrats, Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaaf and PSDB. Our audience is several times larger than the readership of many large Indian national dailies combined. It is also solely run by volunteer contributors who aren't paid any monthly salary. The silent media revolution is here and no one seems to have noticed.

Why is this happening?

Facebook and WhatsApp are emerging as the primary sources of media consumption for millions of Indians, and a silent media revolution is underway. It is taking place right under the nose of the mainstream media of India.

More than 7 million people on various AAP Facebook pages watched Arvind Kejriwal's speech about the Sahara/Birla diaries. Has this issue been fairly covered in the mainstream media...?

An increase in Facebook reach, for example, happens only when many people support your post or view by endorsing it publicly and aggressively. Engagement metrics like Likes, Shares, Comments and Forwards are used to measure impact.

Like any other media organisation, AAP's social media team has developed a way to approach political stories. We first ensure accuracy, fact-check, verify using third-party sources, consider legal and political ramifications and take editorial calls on content on a daily basis. All of this is orchestrated through a small group of passionate unpaid volunteers in design, content and strategy.

The important question to address is how does an unpaid massive media organisation work at scale and why are we growing?

There are 3 major reasons.

First, you need a communicator whose message is simple, effective and honest. In AAP's case, it is Arvind Kejriwal.

Second, you need a base, a core set of people who believe in the communicator (leader) and the organisation's message and will become your influencers. AAP's youth and lack of ideological or historical baggage helps us identify ourselves with all cross-sections of society and doesn't restrict our communication to any particular "vote bank" based on caste, creed, religion, language, gender or region. Our revolution now spreads from Delhi to Punjab, Goa and Gujarat—three completely dissimilar states on any dimension of identity—which shows the party's appeal across the country.

Thirdly, it is necessary to be innovative and aggressive, and make sure that the base grows.

AAP checks all three boxes. But there's more to it.

What's pushing people away from mainstream media?

People are opting out of mainstream media for their news. The mainstream media in India is experiencing an implosion and doesn't seem to be prepared for the disruption that is social media.

Let's take an example. More than 7 million people watched Arvind Kejriwal's speech in the Vidhan Sabha about Sahara/Birla diaries on various AAP Facebook pages. Has this issue been fairly covered in the mainstream media debates or well, even covered? If not, then who is out of touch with the citizens at large? The online media platforms that covered it got tremendous jumps in their readership.

This reality of today's media and the contrasting personalisation of digital channels are getting citizens to shift their preferences to alternate media. Punjab and Goa, where we will fight elections in a month, are two excellent examples of this change.

Brilliant journalists who ask the right questions lose out to uninspired stenographers. Speaking truth to power has given way to being a prisoner of profit.

Alternate media in Punjab is being fuelled by millions of videos being shared daily via WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube. Good orators with selfie videos dominate and they are creating content, stimulating debates and reaching digital screens of different sizes across India.

Likewise, in Goa, more than 600,000 voters are active Facebook users. Content is being locally created and served, without a profit motive. Democratisation of our media has begun with social platforms empowering people to share their stories and impact the mainstream debate.

All this is a direct threat to the business model and purpose of a TV studio, a newspaper or news desk. Given the structural constraints and cost-lines that the mainstream media faces, they must realise that fiery graphics, hash-tags, propaganda or stenography are not the solution.

Where do we go from here?

Is this slow death of political mainstream media good for democracy? I think not.

Investigative journalism, asking hard questions that make politicians go "bas dosti bani rahe", deep dive exposés of corruption, asking the questions that the citizen wants to ask and speaking truth to power are the responsibility of the fourth estate, which is essential for any well functioning society. However, the mainstream media could do better to prepare for this explosive future.

The mainstream media needs to remind itself that great content is great business. Advertisements aren't the only source of revenue. The Indian Express gained circulation tremendously when it spoke truth to power during the Emergency in 1975-77. Grovelling when you're not asked to bend is not only amoral but also terrible for business.

People want stories about them, their area, government and society. They don't want old recycled stories, propaganda or Delhi stories which sometimes feel like the only kind of news that exists. The maddening focus on Delhi and its politics irritates many. Why is the Northeast covered like it is the United Nations? Why is Tamil Nadu news only when its capital drowns or when a greatly loved politician passes away? The mainstream media needs to answer this question with honesty and fix it.

India, that is Bharat, is not interested in Lutyens' gossip or propaganda. They want news and analysis told in interesting formats and hate being served brainless news.

India, that is Bharat, is not interested in Lutyens' gossip or propaganda. They want news and analysis told in interesting formats and hate being served brainless news.

Finally, in our two years in politics, we have heard umpteen tales of pressure on management, editors, journalists and beat reporters. However, many confuse independence with neutrality and don't call a spade a spade, or do so in a rather selective manner.

The media and its business is under threat. Brilliant journalists who ask the right questions lose out to uninspired stenographers. Conscientious editors lose out to management. Speaking truth to power has given way to being a prisoner of profit.

At the same time, digital and social media is generating content by the minute, has cheaper advertising and found innovative methods to engage citizens directly

In this reality, the mainstream media needs to evolve its format, delivery, content, style, method and process of finding, analysing and disseminating news. Because, if it doesn't, the silent media revolution lead by cheap digital and social media is already here and is ready to take over.

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