If elections were to be held on popular news websites like Firstpost.com, ZeeNews, Hindustan Times etc, the Bharatiya Janata Party would have a clean sweep – going by its total domination of the online comment space.
According to an analysis of the top commenters on four of India’s top news websites, 61.4% of the top commenters on these websites were supporters of the BJP, while only 11.4% were supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party. There were no Congress Party supporters among the top commenters on the four websites.
The websites surveyed were Firstpost.com, Zeenews.com, Dnaindia.com and HindustanTimes.com, all of which use the Disqus comment platform. In all, 44 commenters were tagged as top commenters by Disqus due to the sheer number of comments and likes given by these users.
Similarly Ghoda, an AAP-supporter has made 7,775 comments and upvoted 40,645 comments.
Only one of the nine commenters ranked as “top commenters” on Hindustan Times seems to be non-professional commenter, with the other eight seeming to be professionals confining their comments to a particular topic (often beating up political opponents like Arivind Kejriwal, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi etc). Such ‘professional commenters’, often called Paid Trolls in Internet lingo, focus on a topic or keyword, and regularly cut paste the same comment on many articles.
While there are rumors of professional service providers who offer commenting services, it is not clear how many of the ‘top commenters’ are from such agencies. Interestingly, none of the 44 commenters were supporters of the Congress Party.
27 out of the 44 ‘top commenters’ were BJP supporters, 5 were supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party and the remaining 12 did not have any overt political affiliation, though they regularly commented on political topics as well.
The online commenting space has seen a marked change since Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party upset all political calculations in December by winning 28 out of the 72 Delhi Assembly seats.
However, in the run up to the elections, the space has again seen some changes with emergence of IDs like anti-Modi avatar ‘Pinal Sharma’, who has made 10,477 comments tWhile nearly all the discussions on popular websites such as Firstpost.com had been dominated by Aam Aadmi Party supporters, the tide turned after the election results, with BJP supporters taking control of online conversations.
However, in the run up to the elections, the space has again seen some changes with emergence of IDs like anti-Modi avatar ‘Pinal Sharma’, who has made 10,477 comments to rank herself as the top commenter on Dnaindia.com (see picture.) However, unlike most BJP supporters, Sharma seems not to have focused on liking other people’s comments. In other words, Sharma is likely to be an amateur, one-man or one-woman operation.
Another anti-Modi commenter is Joshi Shradha, who has also not liked many comments, but commented several thousand times, in stark contrast to the way the other top commenters function.
Liking is a crucial part of paid image building, as liking comments, often left by a co-worker or the same person, will take the comment to the top of the chart, giving it visibility.
Comments play a crucial role in demoralizing the opposition. Many Aam Aadmi Party supporters, for example, have been demoralized by the sudden shift in the tone and tenor of online conversations around their leader Kejriwal. It is not clear yet how much impact online commenting will have on the actual results on the ground.