Since the last general elections, the online landscape has changed drastically. Facebook has crossed 100 million monthly active users in India which, incidentally, is more than the number of votes the BJP got in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll. With the smartphone explosion and accessibility of the social network in Indian languages, Facebook believes it stands to impact several constituencies. It has 75 million mobile users — 31 million are active daily — and is available in nine Indian languages. Its public policy director (India & South Asia) Ankhi Das spoke to FE's Anand J on Facebook's election-oriented initiatives and how more than 52,000 political pages on the social network have created a new broadcast medium for political parties and leaders.
How do you see the role of Facebook in the Lok Sabha elections?
Politics is a global priority for us and 40% of the world’s population is voting this year. And India being the largest democracy, Facebook is interested in making the platform available for social mobilisation across political parties and leaders. If you look at the number of votes cast in the 2009 election, Congress got 119 million votes and the BJP 78 million votes. We crossed 93 million monthly active users in December 2013. Politicians would like to be present on platforms where people are.
How has Facebook been preparing for the elections?
There are around 52,000 political Facebook pages. Leaders are building communities that will talk and leverage their network. They are engaging with people directly. After Barack Obama, Narendra Modi is the second most popular leader and Arvind Kejriwal is among the top five political leaders globally. On December 8, 2013, when the results of the Delhi elections were announced, Kejriwal’s total number of fans on the platform was 8.5 lakh and it is touching five million today. Even traditional leaders like Mamata Banerjee have more than seven lakh fans. Secondly, we have worked on product innovations to specifically address the Indian election. We introduced the Registered to Vote feature on timelines. We have partnerships with independent groups like the Association for Democratic Reform to help voters make an informed choice. We are putting out independent research like details of elected representatives. And the third thing is Facebook Talks, which is a multi-platform event. The other tool we expect will be used increasingly is the Facebook Q&A, which was launched with Arun Jaitley’s Q&A. The issues that came up