India’s multiphase general elections have reached the halfway mark.

The results of the seven-phase election, running from April 19 to June 1, will be announced June 4. This year’s election, the world’s largest with 960 million eligible voters, will determine 543 seats of the Lok Sabha (the lower house of India’s parliament) and India’s next prime minister.

Joyojeet Pal, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, discusses social media’s role in the current elections. Pal studies technology in democracy and labor, specializing in politicians’ use of social media and misinformation, particularly in India.

How popular is social media in India?

It is estimated that about half a billion Indians are social media users, most using WhatsApp, YouTube, or both.

How big of a role do you think social media is playing in these elections?

Social media plays a massive role on two fronts. The first is the top-down communication from politicians to citizens, which has, for all functional purposes, moved from broadcast television or print to direct communication. Almost every prominent politician uses Twitter/X as an output channel at this point. In addition, they have teams that work on their Facebook, Koo, WhatsApp, YouTube or Instagram strategies, which involve direct outreach or through influencers. The second significant change involving social media and elections is the last mile outreach on WhatsApp, which includes regular/daily messaging with political or ideological content and voting-day reminders for turnout maximization. The WhatsApp coordination is often done using electoral roll information, so politicians have very granular information about who will and will not vote for them and where the pressure points for maximizing results lie.

Read the full interview at Michigan News.