Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US in September, which included a stop in Silicon Valley. While there, he got productive agreements to support economic cooperation with American tech companies, as he looks to fuel an IT boom in India. One of the remarkable events he engaged in was a Facebook town hall meeting, which was held at Facebook headquarters in San Jose. PM Modi had a public discussion with Mark Zuckerberg for an hour, and 1200 Facebook employees attended the meeting. They talked about how communities can work together to address social and economic challenges. The prime minster said during the event that “Social media has the potential to show the government if it is taking a wrong path and then go for a course correction...It is the strength of a democracy.” PM Modi, who used social media extensively in his election campaign, has faith in the power of social media to influence Indian society.
Several US companies have been working to improve internet access in India. Facebook has been offering free internet service via Internet.org, which provides access to about 60 websites such as Wikipedia, BBC News, and other resources, without data fees. Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm are planning to install wireless Internet networks. The Indian government is also committed to these developments, as PM Modi initiated “Digital India” last July and plans to wire 500,000 small villages and to structure a digital hospital system.
Despite only 20% of the Indian population being able to access the internet currently, American social platforms are nonetheless proving extremely popular. India is the second-largest Facebook market, the largest WhatsApp market, and third-largest Twitter market in the world. The number of active users of social media in India is increasing every second. In 2014, police used Twitter to seek information from the public about trafficking and the information received led to uncovering prostitution groups and fake companies. Social media is clearly becoming a useful tool for civic awareness as well as for police investigations in the country.
Indian citizens living abroad have also become able to participate in the national conversation actively for the first time, allowing members of the large Indian global diaspora to reconnect to issues at home. In fact, many prominent Twitters users among the Indian social media communities are based in the United States.
With the Indian population continuing to grow and more citizens connecting to the internet on a daily basis, the web-based relationship between India and the US should also continue to expand.
Seoyoung Baek is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, ASAN Washington Young Fellow, and an undergraduate student at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.