Writer, teacher and academic blogger. Writes a social media trilogy. Forthcoming books: Myth of the Social Media Politics (Primus Books), Intimate Speakers (Fingerprint).Specializes on celebrity culture, political class, culture studies, business politics and technology.
Does it make sense to think that 160 million Indian middle class as the 160 million and above Internet subscribers and majority among them social media users. Perhaps, a strange correlation, yet, it works for the surging middle class basis of expanding corporate India and blossoming digital India. This historic shift in population, subsequent population dividend, and census statistics will force Indian brands and corporate to figure out how to engage with these 160 million populations as they are both middle class and social media users.
A reading of social media landscape in India gives one a contrasting picture against all prophecies prevailing over the years. One fact is certain that social media is pet platforms among middle class. Those who are very poor and those who are very rich do not seem using social media frequently. The poor do not use it for lack of access, language and technical competence where as the rich due to inertia of frequent use!
More than half of India’s population belongs to fourth category of young Indians born after Independence. They were born after when Internet arrived in India. They are, as a canon, the fourth generation. Normally called digital native, these Indians comprises of over 160 million Internet subscribers, just over sixteen per cent of total population by March 2013 (TRAI). The plain data tells that majority of Indians are outside Internet and the social media landscape. Then who is the insider and the outsider, certainly, the great Indian middle class!
India will have over 53 million middle class households by 2015-16, comparing over 267 million people falling in the same category; predict a report by National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER). Significantly, their number is over 46 million by NCAER report estimated on August 2010. However, they are important target for digital marketers, despite their average annual income is $4,000.
By World Bank statistics, annual income of middle class calculated between $4,500 and $22,000; Indian middleclass is nowhere middle class by standards and measurements. By this statistics, number of middle-class households in India would then seem to have been over 28 million for the same year, in contrast to the calculated 46 million and above! However, between 28 and 46 millions, middle class is an important basis of huge consumption pattern in India’s political democracy. Currently, India has 31.4 million middle class households, i.e., 160 million individuals.
Over 12 million Twitter users, over 20 million registered LinkedIn users, over 71 million Facebook users by December 2012, it is plainly clear that majority of people do not use social media in India. However, these ‘digital native’ Indians are active on platforms. Brands have begun to focus their marketing efforts on to social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
The networked structures of the platforms represent that mouse click public seem filtered to navigate users towards a middle class world resurfacing in Indian Internet. “Googling” with politically interested search words like ‘corruption’, one may end up in a whopping list of web pages that makes one believe that Internet represent a paradise of free mind who are able to fight down the menace of corruption. Thus, an anti-corruption world is augmenting against bribery, one of the ills facing democracy.
Internet is resurfacing over middle class anxieties, purchasing power and consumer interest. Socialmedia is borne out of middle class dream and sociability. An atypical reading of platforms fetch one with the idea that Internet is so structured that middle class concerns resurface over platforms. Users easily channeled on tomiddle class tastes and consumption pattern. Platforms have filteredover market tactics, for instances, most read intellectual websites will have real estate ads or so forth. Nodeshavestructuredon a wired consumer market. Labels and words have so arranged in search engines that we are knowingly or unknowingly end up in a consumer empire and middle class borne social house.
Social media is like a shopping mall. Business, commerce and consumer subjects have usually channeledonall platforms. Real estate builders, automobile marketers, insurance companies, and many more ad companies are channeling most platforms. Brands are streaming to platforms to buy out consumers. By this, the super wealthy do not shop where ordinary people shop and people on the streets do not get permission to enter in platforms. Therefore, platforms are strictly middle class centric.
In fact, atthe centre of all outcries reflected in the name of radical media, certainly strikes thechord on the class composition of Internet. Social media reflect a class composition, since platformsare user specific, based on their socio-economic class configuration. Twitter, is where elites of India are alive. It is able to attract audience among intellectuals, policy makers, celebrities, media and activists where active of all middle class and elite users exist.
Users who maintain few or very few followers or profiles of very few influential users in Twitter are normally able to click where they should click. Such users are able to multiply content that are developing significant influence on where public opinion take shape. Text shared and tweeted with 140 characters by profiles of such users certainly most followed, re-tweeted, shared in their industry, community and networks. This means they are winner-take-all in Internet.
Twitter comment by celebrity author Shobhaa De became prime time news hour debate in almost all media platforms recently. Who gets, what, when and how, the cattle class controversy or views on naming the proposed anti-rape law after the 16 December 2012 rape victim, Shashi Tharoor makes the agenda of the nation wide political debate on Twitter. L K Advani and Narendra Modi, leading Indian politicians make their political commentaries on Twitter and social media profiles that attract unheard of public and media attention.
Now, every day, prime time news incorporated what so and so said about subjects ranging from coffin to rocket in the social web. Time to make the latest hypothesis, that the agenda: social, governmental and media, of contemporary days seem arguably mediated by the elite basis of Twitter.
Their opinions, perhaps do not reach the mass Indians, yet, they reach the many who are engaging in influential positions where in decisions are about to take shape for the teeming millions. Elite Twitter users make news and influence ‘terms’ of what to debate on policy agenda. In the areas in which they are influential, Twitter elites is winner-take-all. There are a lot more of them comprising the category of middle class than there are top end celebrities and elite sections in the policy and agenda-setting domain.
Facebook is certainly a different breed. To say the least of cynicism, it has an active celebrity class. People friend celebrities or like their fan pages. Users usually get updates in their Facebook feed or notification status. Obviously, Facebook has a very active crowd class who comprises of all the ordinary among the middle class.
The active Facebook crowd class maintains a pool of connections with friends and family and get little to amplify their user contents outside their sphere of connections. This means, Facebook seems to be missing a strong middle class. Yet, some of Twitter’s lower middle class will cross-post in Facebook in order to reach specific users. However, to be cynical, the fact is that all of the big players are somewhere else out side Facebook class. They all have a Facebook account, but they do not think about it.
Facebook does not have a strong middle class, because Facebook has designed and operated in a way that is negating the people who make up that middle class. It only has a crowd class! Intellectuals debate with their weak ties there. Celebrities build their fan basis. Political activism no more grow out of friendship and family tie outside Facebook. People like photos shared, updates on walls that care nothing of what political activism constitute.
Therefore, what is the lesson learnt? Social media projected as radical are no more radical by meaning. The structure of social media platforms creates class disparity. This disparity is gainful to those who operate it. Big platforms, corporate, media, celebrity status, etc., are markers of social media success. A small, influential upper class, super rich elites producing somewhat small quantity of content aimed at the broadest possible audience. A huge lower class and arguably even middle class use the content.
Social media structure is to foster the growth of a bulky, active middle class. This middle class create and disseminate enormous amounts ofhighly targeted content that possibly hit even those out side of the platforms. Facebook is something like a television network than what anyone calling a walled garden of friendship circle where friendship and family tie strengthen. Most platforms are user specific. Google Plus, LinkedIn, YouTube, WordPress, etc., address a specific class of users. So is to say, a new middle class is on the rise, on specific platform targeting specific audience; the social media middle class!
The nebulous social media landscape represent sweeping middle class social house. Each platform is unique specifically designed for specific purposes. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, are popular for selling products and brands among corporate. These claustrophobic platforms are now seemingly as if town squares and toss shadow of noise, pollution, hate and competition.
The middle class has migrated to social media. This has significance in many respects. India is a society where whopping numbers are illiterates, majority is not able to use English as a medium of communication, majority among them do not have the technical competence to use platforms. Then who other than the middle class are able to use social media in India. Undoubtedly, middle class, cities and social media is a new cultural hybrid. This will have serious repercussions in an age where everything seems flat from politics to business.
The fact is that middle class India normally not interested in voting proves voter turn out in the past from cities. Most cities represent poor voter turn outand electoral apathy are strong among middle class urban India. However, forecasts are that social media influenceselectoral constituencies in the general elections. It is time that middle class must quit from social media. Instead of all verbatim against the ills we face in our democracy, the middle class must go to villages. Educate the grandparents and parents on who to vote. However, social media can never be a platform when we speak to parents and grandparents, for; it is a platform only of specific social groups, to say the middle class, educated, English speaking, urbanized India.