Subash Adhikari, an election strategist for the NC in 2017, says targetted Facebook advertising yielded dramatic results, especially as the NC reached out to Facebook consultants in India.
“We took his advice to form our election strategy with Facebook at the centre,” Adhikari recalls. “We were able to target demographics in specific geographical areas.”
Samriddha Ghimire, who has worked on Indian elections with noted strategist Prashant Kishore, says party leaders in Nepal have no idea or vision on how to conduct an effective digital election campaign.
“All they know is how to spend some money in order to boost Facebook posts,” says Ghimire. “There is no election strategy in general, and specially in using digital platforms.”
No matter how much social media is used for electioneering in Nepal, Ghimire adds, much of the work is in vain without the collection and analysis of data on voters crucial to charting a strategy.
Says Ghimire: “Statistics is the raw information that drives an electoral strategy, as it is planning on what kind of message to send to potential voters.”
Social media, after all, he adds, is just a medium.
“Prashant Kishore’s team chose to categorise their target voters from specific communities in a way that the election-related messages were catered to voter’s interests and opinions,” he remarks. “It is a successful exercise in influencing the vote.”
Prakash Jha of GAMA Nepal agrees, adding that most of the candidates and parties lack even the basic skills to listen to voters, or even write up election manifestos.
“Electoral and political communication in Nepal lack the professionalism required to influence voter behaviour,” says Jha.
Because of this, electoral communication falls back on misinformation and fake news to attack rivals, rather than to highlight the party’s election agenda.
To this, adds Kundan Aryal at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Tribhuvan University: “Although social media has provided an opportunity for a two-way communication, dominance of certain groups has led to the misuse of the platform,”
When social media is used as a propaganda tool to spread false information, it threatens to undermine the very fabric of a liberal democracy, he says.
According to Madhu Acharya of Sharecast Initiative social media has been misused to spread misinformation because mainstream media has not done enough to inform public opinion, making way for the likes of ‘reporters’ on YouTube to fill the information gap by making a mockery of serious public issues.
“Not everything that one sees on the internet is to be believed,” Acharya says: “If media users consider their source of information, it could stop the spread of misleading and false content to a great extent.”