Facebook on Tuesday launched its widely awaited “election tracker” for the upcoming general elections, a move that signals the growing importance of social media as a political tool in a rapidly urbanizing India.
India’s 2014 ballot battle will run through the social-media world, which could likely influence electoral outcomes by swinging 3-4% votes, as more and more young Indians go online to make sense of politics, according to two new surveys.
In these mostly urbanising seats, social-media usage is now “sufficiently widespread” to influence politics, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). An offline study conducted by market research firm TNS and Google India suggested similar shifts.
The Facebook tracker (
) will help India’s 93 million Facebook users to see which parties and candidates as well as issues are trending.
Social-media platforms are likely to be influential in 160 of India’s 543 Parliament constituencies, making Facebook and Twitter users the nation’s newest voting bloc, according to the IAMAI survey.
These are constituencies where 10% of the voting population uses social media sites such as Facebook, or where the number of social media users is higher than the winning candidate’s margin of victory at the last election.
Research shows that social media is more persuasive than television ads. Nearly 100 million Indians, or more than Germany’s population, use the Internet each day. Of this, 40 million have assured broadband, the ones most likely to have at least one social media account.
“Unlike Obama who used social media directly for votes, Indian politicians have tended to use it more to mould public discourse,” says Sunil Abraham, the CEO of The Centre for Internet and Society.
“I think these trends are over-hyped and the impact, if any, would only be marginal,” said Communist Party of India MP, Gurudas Dasgupta, who created a Facebook account only last month.