India's Election: A Vote for Selfies

India's Election: A Vote for Selfies

Why you should care

The world’s largest democracy has hit a rough patch in governance, but India’s likely next prime minister promises to be more responsive to its 1.2 billion people, with an assist from social media.

India’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader, Narendra Modi, look set for victory in the country’s marathon five-week, 10-stage election when the final votes are tallied Friday.

Another, more unexpected, winner: American social media companies.

The sheer size of India’s electorate, with its 814 million eligible voters, and the interest in this year’s race — a record 66% turned out — meant lots and lots of people turning to Facebook and Twitter to talk politics. The Indian press is hailing it as the country’s first ”social media election.” And the stats back it up. In the 24 hours following the announcement of this year’s elections, mentions of the word “election” increased by 561%, and mentions of the Lok Sabha — the name of India’s parliament — rose 150% among people on Facebook in India, according to information the company provided to OZY.

Part of a series on the Indian election.

Facebook also reports that Modi has 14.3 million fans — the fastest-growing number of any political figure worldwide for the past day, week and month. That’s pushed him up to second, behind only President Barack Obama, among the world’s most popular political figures on the site. Anticorruption reformer Arvind Kejriwal of the rival Aam Aadmi Party has also climbed the ranks, now sitting at fifth in the Facebook world.

In a country where the act of tweeting was virtually unheard of in political circles just a few years ago, officials and political aspirants are now all over the medium, attracting millions of followers. Modi leads on this front as well, with nearly 4 million as of earlier this week.

A mosaic of Narendra Modi comprised of selfies.

#selfiewithmodi

Facebook already had relatively high penetration in India, with 100 million active users — well over half of the 170 million Indians who are on the Internet. But that’s still less than 10% of the total populace. For tech companies, that huge, fast-growing and increasingly affluent population represents a major growth opportunity, as Harvard Business School professor Misiek Piskorski underscores in the Harvard Business Review this week. They hope that any traction gained with new users during the course of the world’s largest exercise in democracy sticks, and that they keep coming back for more.

On that front, Modi offered reason for optimism this week. In his May 12 statement marking the completion of the elections, he cheered the record turnout, particularly among the young.

”Back in the day, voting was not believed to be ‘cool enough’ for a lot of youngsters. Today, that is history,” he said. ”One needs to log in to Facebook or Twitter on polling day to see the number of selfies my young friends are sharing.”

The likely future prime minister of the world’s largest democracy also credited social media with helping keep him and his party connected with “local sentiments.”

[Social media] became a direct means of information and gave us the much-needed local pulse on several issues without any bias.

 

— Narendra Modi, candidate for prime minister of India

”Our Party, our campaign and me personally have gained tremendously from social media. It became a direct means of information and gave us the much-needed local pulse on several issues without any bias,” said Modi. And he promised ”more power to social media in the days ahead.”

To which Silicon Valley might reply: “From your lips to God’s ears.”

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