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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Anna Hazare, Jan Lokpal bill top status updates in 2011

CHENNAI: Communications minister Kapil Sibal may think content on social networking sites is offensive, but a new study shows that the users are politically engaged people who air views and share news online.

According to a report released by Facebook, Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal bill were mentioned the most in status updates in 2011 in India. But Sibal might just dislodge Hazare if he persists with the demand to pre-screen internet content. On Twitter, #IdiotKapilSibal was the trending topic on Tuesday.

The Facebook study shows that social media users in the country prefer to share and discuss political events rather than entertainment reports. "Today's social platforms are allowing people to do something about the things they believe in. The criticism that this is just a modern version of armchair activism, or re-tweet activism, is unfair," said Narendra Nag, general manager, 2020 Social, an online community management firm.

Social networking sites were used as an organizing tool for protests during the Anna Hazare fast in April. Facebook, with over 38 million Indian users-over 3% of the population-is credited with playing a significant role in the 'India Against Corruption' movement. Likewise, Twitter, MySpace and Blackberry Messenger have been key to political movements globally.

"We had the right policy and correct philosophy (Jan Lokpal bill), and the huge number of social media users helped the movement," said Anna Hazare's former blogger and political analyst Raju Parulekar. In future, such channels will play a bigger role in democratic countries like ours, he said.

Shah Rukh Khan's film 'Ra.One' and song 'Chammak Chalo' were the second most-shared topics on status updates followed by Osama bin Laden, Jagjit Singh and Steve Jobs.

Globally, Osama bin Laden's death topped the status trend among a total of 800 million users as of September.

A separate study by Pew Research in June said that Facebook users are politically more active than other social media users. This year, social media has played a key role in international politics. The sites have been used to spread mass anti-government protests in Syria, Libya, and other North African countries.

The London riots in August were planned using social media tools, especially Blackberry Messenger. Later, police cracked down on planned riots with the help of Research In Motion, the makers of Blackberry. In the UK, status messages about the riots were the second most popular, after the Royal Wedding.

"Willingness to express opinions and network with large numbers of people will continue to fuel reform movements and people will thoroughly participate in such events," said Kiruba Shankar, tech expert and CEO of Business Blogging, a social media consultant.

On the move to control the content on the internet, Parulekar said, "I am absolutely against any kind of censorship in media or social media." He said these tools are important for democracy and democratic referendum.

Social media users and analysts suspect that the government does not want another Anna Hazare-type movement, which was powered by social media. "My suspicion is that they want to protect the government, fearing mass movements like the ones in Syria, Libya or other Middle East countries," Shankar said. "The internet is the world's largest democracy and it should not be meddled with."


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