How Karnataka Congress is winning the social media game ahead of assembly elections

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While the party is busy with its campaign for Karnataka assembly election 2018, a team of 25 Congressmen and IT professionals are quietly creating a storm on social media in favour of the Congress. "The constitution protects all religions & traditions in India. All one has to do is believe in it & follow what it stands for. The problem arises when you disregard constitution & rules to mix it with cheap politics to fulfill one's ambitions," read one of the tweets by Karnataka's young IT/BT minister, Priyank Kharge to counter a controversial statement made by a BJP parliamentarian, barely a week ago. The content quite unusual for the first time legislator and minister who has, at least until now, kept his social media interactions very transactional with updates about his ministry and other developments of the state.

How Karnataka Congress is winning the social media game ahead of assembly elections

The increasing presence on social media and the encouragement to voice opinions on contentious issues comes at a time when the state gears up for elections next year. Armed with a cyber war room comprising about 25 partymen, IT professionals and thousands of volunteers right down to grassroot levels, the social media cell will help the Congress counter any malicious campaigns, false news or data and to also corner the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its principal political opponent, with retweets, repost and almost re-endorse the statements made by its leaders, heading into elections next year.

"The BJP used social media very well in 2014, not just for their propaganda but also to promote misinformation and misled the people. We had to change the narrative," said Dinesh Gundu Rao, working President, KPCC explaining the intent behind Congress' strong social media push.

While the party is keen on engaging workers at booth level with micro committees, the social media team is parallelly building an army of digital ninjas for every booth across the state. "The idea is to have a digital youth for every booth. Ours is a four-layered approach with convenors at state, district, constituency and booth levels," said Srivatsa Y B, who heads the party's social media cell in Karnataka. Managing the party's social media perception is the team's focus.

Take for instance energy minister D.K.Shivakumar's tweet on the Deepika Padukone starrer, Padmavati. Although Congress has nothing to do with the movie, the party used the controversy to target right wing groups and take tacit potshots at the BJP. Shivakumar's tweets was retweeted 780 times while Siddaramaiah's post on the same topic received 1,364 retweets and 2,347 likes.

While the party has hired professionals to create content, handle design and graphics, it is volunteers including Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's son Dr Yathindra handle operations and take the campaigns forward.

Rao added that while professional help is required to run the team, the social media cell is mostly comprised of organic volunteers aligned with the party's ideology. "After 2018 assembly elections, we have to prepare for 2019 general elections. Our volunteers are here to stay," he said. "No abuse, no trolling, no below the belt comments are standing instructions," Rao said while emphasising the team's focus is countering 'false with facts'.

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