The Evolution of Media Tech in Distribution of Political Narratives – Past, Present, and Future

Narratives, often used as a technical term for storytelling, plays an important role in mass communications. The advent of print medium, shifted the narrative style from connected individuals & communities (in oral form) to a large society of strangers. While the adoption of tech helped many fields in mass communication, one field that greatly impacts our regular day-to-day life is political narratives.

One of the common misconceptions in understanding political narrative is that media, a.k.a traditional media, is the important facilitator in the discourse of the narrative to the larger public. While this is majorly true in a mainstream communication, there are many other mediums, other than traditional media, that plays a greater role in our discovery, consumption, assimilation, affirmation, and propagation of narratives.

Elections are the best examples to see how political narratives were distributed through mediums, over a period of time. No matter how strong an advocate of privacy you can be, you will still be a target and victim of the political campaign during elections.

While we begin classifying and dissecting the mediums, there is one thing to keep a note of.

A medium for a political narrative, however old it is, will exist until it provides an opportunity to segment and target

Before you read further: The below subtopics are neither a linear transformation nor an exhaustive list of technologies, and definitely not a critic of any technology or narrative. It is to show how the mediums come into play in our day-to-day life, how it will keep evolving, and how you can become an informed victim.

Mediums – Before & Now

From Newspapers To TV News: Newspapers have been the long-standing mainstream medium in running the show of Public narratives – political opinions and ads. TV news provided the visual aspect with an additional scope for continuous coverage and debate on the news. Largely seen as independent mediums, in its early beginnings, these quickly caught the attention of the politicians and parties (India and globally as well), and today many newspapers and TV channels have acquired considerable financial and political backings from parties. Interestingly, in India, a lot of political parties actually own and control regional TV channels and Newspapers. What you read and view as news, especially around an election time, might actually be a propaganda from a party.

From Radios To Podcasts: Radios provided a personal touch, compared to newspapers, as it had the voice of the narrator. From a simple news to govt. narratives to declaring wars, we have heard a lot through this medium. Radio allows for regional and demographic segmentation and hence provides an effective propaganda tool during elections. More significantly, it also allows for targeting rural and remote communities, where radio is still the means of regular discourse (picture tea stalls with the radio playing in the background). Podcasts are a newer age medium, providing a transformational shift in segmenting the interest parameter – from interest on the channel to interest on the topic. It is still in the early stages, with predominantly younger age audiences as consumers, and hence only a few parties have latched on to it. You will see more of it in the years to come…

From Books & Magazines To Movies & TV series: Have you noticed books related to political biographies and historical incidents released around election time? We even had books that helped to spread a new ideology through the masses over a long period of time (Example: a little red book – in China). Movies on personalities have helped in building an aura around the political leaders. Many political leaders have emerged from an acting career as well. With the new age fad around web series, political biographies have an option to become a TV series. You will see more of it coming during the election times.

From Flyers To Tweets & Live broadcasting: Flyers that are painstakingly distributed through newspapers and door-to-door campaigns have found a new and easy form with twitter tweets – directly circulated from the leader or party handles to the followers and lists. Leave aside TV channels, propaganda campaigns, today, are broadcasted live through twitter for the masses.

From Banners To Online Ads: When an election happens, one thing that can never miss the eye of the general public are the banners placed around the town. Those are meant to be outside the home of the target. So how to target the folks inside the homes and offices – Online Ads! From social media communities to magazines, it is easier for parties to target the folks through online mediums. Echo chambers in social media help to conveniently affirm anything you believe in.

Opinions morph as Facts in Social Media

*Similar to banners, we also have cut-out of leaders displayed on the streets. With the increasing restriction on the cut-outs, we have an option to display holograms of leaders. It is still in the nascent stage, and will see more of it in the coming years.

From Phone & SMS campaigns To WhatsApp & Mobile Apps: There was a time when IVRs and SMS were used to be the propaganda machine. While those are increasing seen as spam, WhatsApp & Mobile Apps have started taking over that narrative market. Connect – Engage – Propagate – Refer – Expand can be treated as the value chain in these app. With the option to sell merchandises it has all the potential to turn into a self-funded campaign medium. How about a freebie phone provided by the govt. with the govt. (pseudo party) app mandatorily installed? Economists will have a hard time arguing against it.

Future Episodes in Public Narratives:

Voice Bots: Voice searches are becoming popular and voice bots are creeping into our living space. Until an independent agency creeps in, we treat the answer from voice bots as facts. What if the companies involved in voice bots have a collaboration with political parties? Political tunes from the device can be easily justified as data biases from the machine learning algorithms – who can we blame here?  

Augmented Reality: For simplicity sake, augmented reality is the display of holograms in your living room environment. In a country like India, where there are diverse languages, a political leader can use augmented reality, coupled with natural language processing algorithms, to reach any interested audience and communicate in their language as the leader narrates in his/her language of comfort. Consider this playing out during elections….

Virtual Reality: Being a part of a community gives a sense of social standing for any individual. With virtual reality, political campaigns can be played with any number of participants without the necessity to be physically present – both the leader and participant. The narrative can be designed in any grandeur form (example: backdrop of the setup as a royal palace) – even the leader can be anyone playing the avatar in the online space. Is there anything that the party cannot do here?

The Way Forward:

While the nation is the largest addressable market for a large political party, it is often segmented into different audiences, based on demographics, geographies, interest, ideologies, etc., and the narratives are distributed via a multitude of mediums for customization and effective adoption. The idea of multisensory (primarily visual, audio, and touch) assimilation + ease of access to information will propel the search and adoption of new age platforms. Whether we like it or not, we cannot avoid it being played out on us – in one form or another. Rejecting all political narratives is in itself a narrative. As consumers, we being cognizant will differentiate us between a normal victim and an informed victim in political narratives arena.

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