Siva Vaidhyanathan from the University of Virginia answers the question if Narendra Modi would be Prime Minister of India without Facebook.
With the world’s three largest democracies — as well as several nations across Asia — set to go to the polls next year, the role of big tech and social media platforms will come into sharp focus once again.
Speaking to 360info, the author of the book Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy believes that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign set the pattern for proto-authoritarian campaigns in weak democracies across the world.
Quotes attributed to Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor of Media Studies and director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia.
“What if the world had no Facebook in 2014, 15 and 16? Right, when Narendra Modi set the pattern for proto-authoritarian campaigns in weak democracies.”
“Modi leveraged teams of trolls who would flood Facebook with messages that would harass critics, with messages that would rile up crowds, and indignation mostly toward Muslims, but in some cases toward others.”
“An authoritarian figure like Narendra Modi, they’re so willing to leverage the amplification power of these platforms, but that’s not just leveraging the power of the algorithm. It’s leveraging the social organisation that occurs on these platforms by willing participants as well.”
“At that moment, the Congress party was also fairly pro-Hindu, like not standing up for Muslim rights or diversity or equality in any effective way. The Congress Party was also as it has been for 60 years, deeply corrupt. Everybody knew it, everybody was sick of it. The Congress Party lacked inspirational leadership as it had since the death of Indira Gandhi.”
“Facebook or not, I’m fairly sure Modi would have triumphed. What would not have happened is that Modi’s model of running a campaign would influence the rest of the world.”
Professor Siva Vaidhyanathan is the Robertson Professor of Media Studies and director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia. He is also a 2023 James Fellow at the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC) working in collaboration with Dr Olga Boichak (University of Sydney).