Why is Facebook so interested in India's election, asks Buzzfeed. More like why not! The event will mark the largest democratic election ever conducted around the globe. For a social network in a midlife-crisis, a country where half the population is under 24 has to look like salvation.
Just yesterday, Facebook announced that it had 100 million active users in India, the second country to cross that mark after the U.S., and would reset its sight on 1 billion users. India is also the only country where Facebook can even "hope to corral" 1 billion new users.
One way to get there? Inserting yourself into the political process of the world's largest democracy. Early last month, Facebook India launched an election tracker, modeled after one used in the 2012 presidential elections in the United States. Facebook explained this decision with the kind of language you expect to read in The Circle:
"Our mission is to make the world more open and connected," Facebook's Public Policy Manager Katie Harbath told BuzzFeed in a phone interview. "Part of that is helping to connect citizens with the people who represent them in government. Elections are the first way that citizens have that opportunity to voice their opinions."
As you'll notice, however, that election tracker has some fine print at the bottom:
Candidates are ranked based on the number of mentions on Facebook
Facebook's tracker may end up being more accurate than a Gallup poll, but this handy visualization of which candidate is in the lead is not representative of the Indian populous. Only an eighth or so of eligible Indian voters are on Facebook :
"Of the 800+ million people eligible to vote in India, 170 million of them are on the Internet and well over half of Internet users in India are using Facebook," Facebook spokesperson Andrew Stone told BuzzFeed in an email.
That said, Buzzfeed reports that segment of the population that might use an American company as part of its voting process is growing:
Half of India's total population is younger than 24, and about 150 million people in India's total electoral pool are first-time voters. According to some estimates, more than 40% of India's eligible voters are between 18 and 35 years old. Surveys have found that 70% of all Indian students own smartphones. This is all to say: For the first time in Indian history, there is a significant overlap between the urban, educated, tech-savvy India and the India that lines up to cast its vote.
Facebook claims the goal is to drive more citizens to the polls, rather that get new users, and has built some features to that end. Facebook India features a button labeled "I'm a Voter," to allow users to tell their friends they voted. The button is only visible to users over 18, when voting is taking place in their region.
If you were wondering whether the 79-year-old candidate from your constituency has a verified Twitter presence, then this tool is extremely handy - however, the information being presented is a very basic snapshot, and should only be used as the first stop on the way to making an informed choice.
Google has been launching country specific "election portals" since the Arab Spring. Facebook efforts to take some of the democratic election market share have been successful. Buzzfeed says "Facebook pages for Indian politicians and parties have garnered likes faster than any other political pages worldwide."
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