Are there mobile social networks in India?

India

Kuldeep Kumar

is a journalist and columnist based in Delhi. He mainly writes on politics and culture for newspapers such as "The Hindu" and "Jansatta". He also has a weekly Hindi blog on the Deutsche Welle website.



Translation: Stefan Mentschel

Internet, Blogs and Social Media in India

Internet and social media are now part of everyday life in India. Almost a quarter of a billion people are online - and the number is rising. The number of Indian blogs is in the tens of thousands. At the same time, the Internet has become an important instrument for political articulation and mobilization in recent years.

Advertisement for an internet cafe in Delhi. (& copy picture-alliance)

One of the fundamental changes in India in the 21st century is the rapid expansion of the Internet. Cyber ​​cafes were opened not only in the metropolises, but also in small towns and villages. Schoolchildren and students began to socialize around the world and tap into the myriad sources of knowledge. National borders disappeared. In the meantime, the Internet has become so ubiquitous that more and more young people prefer the virtual to the real world and achieve a lot in it.

"The Internet has established itself in India"

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 40 percent of all households worldwide are connected to the Internet. At least 2.7 billion people are online. In India, according to government surveys at the end of 2013, there were around 239 million people who had an Internet connection. This number is expected to rise to 243 million by mid-2014, which would replace the United States as the world's second largest internet user after China. "The Internet has taken off in India," said Rajan Anandan, chairman of the Internet Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

Before the Internet, the cell phone revolution changed the lives of Indians, as even remote places were connected to the network. According to government figures, there are now 873.3 million people in possession of a cell phone (as of December 2013). With the introduction of smartphones, users can now connect with the world around the clock, with more than 150 million Indians already using mobile internet. At the end of 2014, market researchers believe, this number could rise to 365 million.

More and more Indians are using social media, and the Internet has a decisive influence on how information and knowledge are disseminated and received. According to a report in the Times of India newspaper, around 93 million Indians used Facebook in early 2014, with 73 million logging in via mobile phones and tablet computers. Around 33 million Indians are active on Twitter, 18 million on LinkedIn.

Young men and women have discovered social media for themselves because it is not easy for them to come into contact with one another in public, make friends or exchange ideas, feelings and dreams with one another. In the protected world of social networks, they can do this without being bothered by the restrictions of the still conservative society. However, many have already seen the other side of the coin. Cyber ​​bullying, stalking and other forms of abuse on the Internet are being reported more and more often. Experts are therefore calling for legal protection measures to be introduced for Internet users in India as well.

"Blogging has become a national pastime"

+ Democracy is about assertion and participation. The internet revolution has also changed the social and political landscape of India through its unlimited possibilities to articulate itself. Access to traditional media such as newspapers and television was reserved for selected people. The Internet has changed that, because it offers creativity a platform as well as many previously unheard voices that can now express themselves freely and be heard.

As a result, blogging has become a national pastime. Anyone can post articles, comments, poems, short stories or novels on their own blog. There is no representative study of the number of blogs in India. However, Jagdishwar Chaturvedi, professor of mass media and the University of Calcutta and author of the book Democracy and Social Media, estimates that there are at least 16,000 Indian bloggers who publish in the Hindi language. Chaturvedi assumes a total of 75,000 Indian blogs. There are many directories on the Internet that list popular blogs to help readers orient themselves. These include indianbloggers.org, blogadda.com and topindianblogs.com.

Some blogs have become so prominent that traditional media can no longer ignore them. There are numerous newspapers in various national languages ​​that have started to publish the content of certain blogs on a regular basis. As the first Hindi-language daily newspaper, Jansatta, which is published in Delhi and other northern Indian cities, has opted for it. "We call the format Samanatr (parallel), because blogs are a parallel medium," says the editor-in-chief of Jansatta, Om Thanvi. "Lots of talented people write blogs that remain inaccessible to those who don't have a computer or internet connection. So we decided to put some of these blogs in our newspaper every day."

Blogs have become the arena for competing ideas. Intense discussions and debates take place in blogs. Now and then these are conducted with bitter severity. Personal bills are paid, insults are exchanged and rumors are spread. Regardless, blogs have helped create a lively atmosphere for the free exchange of opinions and information. Numerous discussion forums have been launched on the Internet - to represent or fight radical ideologies. Many blogs have taken on the media world and accompany developments with critical distance. In short, there has been a veritable explosion of democratic expression in India in recent years thanks to the Internet. The Internet has therefore become a tool that has given millions of previously speechless Indian citizens a voice and opened up new horizons for them.

"Social media as a vehicle for creating political awareness"

In a large country like India, where democracy could only take root after the end of colonial rule in 1947, the work of political parties and governments was not transparent for decades. That has changed with the spread of the internet. Political parties operate websites on which citizens can obtain information. NGOs and other civil society actors also have websites to provide information about their activities. Against this background, it is not surprising that more and more campaigns are being started via the Internet and social media, which are thus becoming a platform for mobilization and change.

The Indian parliamentary elections in spring 2014 are already described by observers as "historic", as for the first time all parties and their candidates and supporters have made full use of the possibilities of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, thus making the Internet an important election arena. The politicians were aware that more than half of the 811 million eligible voters are younger than 35 years and that many of them are at home on the Internet. More and more top Indian politicians are also using the short message service Twitter to spread their messages.

According to surveys by the industry association IAMAI, the election results in 160 of the total of 543 constituencies could be influenced by voters who regularly use the Internet and social media. In addition, the view has prevailed that those who are active in social networks are more likely to vote at the polling station than those who are not online. Or to put it another way: Social media have become a vehicle for creating political awareness. Against the background of the growing influence of these media, the Indian electoral commission is now paying more attention to election campaigns on the Internet.

Internet governance: "Rules are becoming more and more important"

Social media played an important role in the so-called Arab Spring. They were significant in India at the end of 2012 when tens of thousands gathered in mass protests after the brutal rape of a young woman in a Delhi city bus. The student Tanvi remembers: "We exchanged information, agreed meeting places and discussed the course of the protests every day."

As early as 2011, when activist Anna Hazare led a mass movement against corruption, social media was of enormous importance in mobilizing supporters for the campaign among young people. The founding and strengthening of a new political force in India - the Aam Aadmi Party (meaning: party of the common people, AAP) - is also largely attributed to the huge support of the project in social networks by observers.

Against the background of the increasing spread and the growing influence of the Internet, the question of internationally binding rules is becoming more and more important. In matters of so-called Internet governance, India advocates the establishment of a multilateral body that formulates these rules under the umbrella of the United Nations. In the opinion of India, relevant interest groups and international organizations should advise this institution on all important issues. Currently, the Internet connects a little less than three billion people. This is why many believe that Internet governance should not be in the hands of individual governments, nor should it be the sole responsibility of the United Nations. Rather, decisions should be made in consensus among politics, business, science and civil society.

Another important topic is Internet surveillance, which was put on the international agenda by former US intelligence official Edward Snowden. Last but not least, the users of social networks were shocked by the massive violation of their privacy. This topic will be debated even more intensely in the future - also in India.