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Rahul Gandhi as Twitter’s Newest Troll

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While the Modi government has been carefully using social media to engage with the common folks and solve the issues first hand, Rahul Gandhi is using it to launch his stand-up career. Or so it seems.

The Modi ministers have used Twitter as an effective way to engage with the citizens. Besides the Prime Minister himself, his many colleagues have used the medium as a two-way communication tool. The government is not only promoting its flagship schemes but is also listening intently to what people have to say. Probably this is the reason that the Prime Minister has emerged on the top in a survey conducted by the HT to find out the most inspiring public figure for the youth of India. From ministers to party leaders, the entire top brass of the central government and the BJP has made itself available online.

In contrast, the leaders of the Indian National Congress showed immense technological inertia in understanding the reach and magnitude of social media platform. Besides Shashi Tharoor, no other minister from the UPA had any substantial presence on the social media site, till the recent times. The Congress Vice President displayed a lot of resistance, but eventually joined Twitter in 2015. However, it is only now that Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter page is seeing regular activity.  Standing at 3.81 million followers (last checked on October 21, 2017), it is still a long way to go for the Gandhi scion when it comes to competing with the Prime Minister whose personal Twitter account has one of the world’s highest follower count at 35.5 million, next only to U.S. President Donald Trump.

In fact, Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter following, in comparison to other popular political faces, puts things in right perspective. Many of the top ministers, such as the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley enjoy a Twitter following of 9.84 million and 9.78 million respectively.  His opponent from Amethi, and a very vocal I&B minister in the Modi government, Smriti Irani has a follower count of 7.5 million, racing much ahead of the Congress Vice President.

Contrary to the claims being made by the Social media and Digital communications cell of Congress of the enhanced reach and impact of the twitter handle of the party vice-president, the growth is not extraordinary. It is only managing to hold ground in comparison to the second rung leadership of the BJP.

The tweets between the period of Oct 1 -Oct 16, 2017, clearly illustrates that the retweets from the Twitter handles of various BJP leaders, on an average, are at par with the retweets from the Twitter handle of Rahul Gandhi.

Following are some of the examples of the tweets by BJP leaders’ Twitter handle:

Following are some of the examples of the tweets by Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter handle:

I&B Minister Smriti Irani, with her witty come backs, has been at the forefront of taking on the Congress President both offline and online. Recently, when the @OfficeOfRG tried to take on the skewed narrative using the Global Hunger Index, she countered the claim with facts and some shayari of her own, garnering more retweets than the original tweet by the Twitter handle of Congress Vice President:

This is not the first time that Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter handle has been deployed to run down India’s image in the world. Recently, he retweeted Donald Trump’s tweet indicating better relations of U.S.A. with Pakistan to mock Prime Minister Modi. Even when India’s stated global position is to de-hyphenate her vis-à-vis Pakistan, the Congress leader attempted to do just the same, undermining national interest.

As noticed by many, Rahul Gandhi is attempting to do an image makeover on the social media. But the opinions are divided whether he wants to reinvent himself as a troll or a fake news propagator. Many observers have labelled his penchant for incendiary remarks of jocular nature, lacking the gravitas of serious political contemplation, as master trolling.   While the tag of fake news enthusiast is also under contestation, considering the following example:

Rahul Gandhi tweeted a PTI report claiming that the Yogi government in U.P. has cut the budgetary provisions for secondary education and higher education compared to that of previous government.

A few of the online blogs and Twitter accounts demolished the claims by doing a simple fact check on the story. It was also brought to the attention of the Congress Vice President who chose to keep mum rather than retract his tweet or question the agency for its spurious reporting.

The increasing popularity of Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter account is being hailed by the usual suspects based on the number of retweets he has been receiving. The sudden spike is sure an aspect worth investigating, as past experiences have shown that in most of the cases fake followers constitute most of the follower count. In fact,  ANI report has brought out the truth behind the inorganic rise in Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter popularity. It has found out that most of the Twitter accounts RT-ing Rahul Gandhi’s tweets are fake. Such actions do raise suspicion, since the battle of perception is bitterly fought on the social media.

It would be interesting to see how this battle shapes up in the next few months, as one nears Gujarat election. Will the shoot and scoot strategy of Rahul Gandhi’s social media campaign sustain eyeballs or the Modi government’s performance push emerge as the real winner in the end?

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