Bloomberg News

Facebook Sought Out by Modi to Improve Indian Governance

July 03, 2014

Facebook Inc. (FB:US) and India’s government agreed to work on health and education initiatives in the world’s largest democracy and the social-networking company’s second-biggest market by users.

“Being an avid user of social media myself, I talked about ways through which a platform such as Facebook can be used for governance and better interaction between the people and governments,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on his Facebook page today after a meeting with the company’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in New Delhi. He also wants to use Facebook to promote tourism to India, he said.

Facebook is growing “incredibly fast” in India, Sandberg said yesterday. While fewer than 1 in 5 Indians use the Internet now, Modi extensively used Facebook, Twitter Inc. and other digital media earlier this year in his election campaign that concluded with a landslide victory.

The government and Facebook have agreed to work closely together, Sandberg told reporters today in the Indian capital after meeting with Ravi Shankar Prasad, the nation’s information technology and law minister.

The Menlo Park, California-based company wants to work on projects around girls and education in India, Sandberg said.

Facebook will expand its reach in Asia’s third-largest economy through Internet.org, Sandberg said today. Internet.org is a project started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to bring the Internet to the two thirds of the world’s population that don’t have it.

Followers

India has an estimated 205 million Internet users, according to Arnab Mitra, managing director of LIQVD Asia, a digital advertising company. The number will rise to as many as 370 million by 2015, in a country of 1.2 billion people, he predicts.

Modi is the second-most followed politician on Facebook in the world after Barack Obama, Carson Dalton, the networking site’s communications chief for India, said in a text message today.

There were about 80 million users of social media in urban India at the time of the election, according to Internet and Mobile Association of India estimates. A third live in towns with populations of less than 500,000 and a quarter in areas populated by under 200,000.

Modi is counting on social networking to keep his party in power, in a country where 372 million people -- or 31 percent of the population -- are below the age of 15, more than the population of the U.S.

A Facebook researcher apologized on June 29 for a test in January 2012 that altered the number of positive and negative comments that almost 700,000 users saw on their online feeds of articles and photos. Disclosure of the experiment prompted some members to express outrage on Twitter’s microblogging site about the research as a breach of privacy.

Facebook “communicated poorly” about the experiment, Sandberg said yesterday in New Delhi.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bianca Vázquez Toness in New Delhi at btoness@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net Jeanette Rodrigues, Dick Schumacher


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