Social media changes face of Indian general elections

Washington: The three US social media giants – Facebook, Twitter and Google – have emerged as major players in the ongoing general elections in India, with political parties and candidates competing with each other in breaking news and spreading messages via these outlets.

While the impact of these social media on the elections could be known only after May 16, when the results are declared, or could be a matter of another academic research, all the three major players have seen substantial increase in their India traffic and usage.

For instance, Facebook now has 100 million users in India – its largest outside the US, while those of Twitter have more than doubled since January this year.

After the seventh round of polling, there were 49 million Indian elections-related conversations on Twitter – more than double the 20 million Indian elections-related conversations on Twitter for all of 2013.

In 2009, Shashi Tharoor was the only Indian politician to have a Twitter account and had 6,000 followers. Five years later, there is hardly any major political leader who does not have an account on the microblogging site.

Tharoor is now the second most popular politician on Twitter with 2.16 million followers, after BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi who has 3.89 million followers.

In addition, Modi now has nearly 14 million ‘likes’ on his Facebook page.

Barack Obama is the only other politician to have more Facebook ‘likes’ on his page than Modi.

With political parties, leaders and candidates putting their advertisements on social media to reach out to their voters – besides those via traditional media, all the three major players are reported to have made substantial addition to their revenue.

Though none of the companies are willing to discuss the advertisement revenue this election cycle, all of them have put in several months of tireless efforts and diverted substantial amount of their resources in the elections, many of them working thousands of miles away from India.

Facebook started working on the Indian elections towards the end of last year, says Katie Harbath, manager for Policy at Facebook, adding that the company started doing a series of things beginning March this year when the elections were announced.

This includes launch of election tracker that people can see in real time. Candidates are now using Facebook and Twitter for breaking news.

While the majority of the users of social media are concentrated in urban areas, the elections have also helped them expand their reach to the rural areas too.

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Free Press Journal