According to a recent report from the trade body Internet and Mobile Association of India and the Mumbai-based research group Iris Knowledge Foundation, social media will be a deciding factor in India’s upcoming elections. According to the report, Facebook users in 150 of the country’s 543 constituencies will determine the outcome of the parliamentary elections.
This ambitious statement is backed by somewhat questionable methodology. Those 150 constituencies are ones where either at least 10 percent of the population uses Facebook, or the number of Facebook users is higher than the winning candidate’s margin of victory in the most recent election. These are not certain predictors of the political power of Facebook, as many users do not engage in politics via social media.
But the premise of the study makes sense. As the number of Indian social media users increases, Facebook and other platforms will almost certainly affect India’s elections, just as they did the 2012 US presidential elections, though probably not to the same extent. Researchers predict that there will be 80 million Facebook users in India by the time the elections take place next summer, compared to 158 million in the US.
Indian politicians and political parties have already begun using social media to market their campaigns. Last year in the state elections of Uttar Pradesh, multiple parties used Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and smartphone applications to spread their messages to users.
Voters’ and politicians’ use of social media will play a role in India’s upcoming elections. But the effects of social media will be limited by the number of Internet users in India, which totals just 150 million out of a population of 1.2 billion. Of course, many of those connected to the Internet are young, politically and socially engaged voters. It remains to be seen whether that demographic will impact the 2014 Indian elections in a way comparable to the 2012 US presidential elections.
– Kat Henrichs