Narendra Modi, India’s charismatic Prime Minister, praised social media for enabling ordinary citizens to express political opinions and influence their governments during a visit to Facebook over the weekend. The visit was part of a tour of Silicon Valley before Modi headed to New York City for the United Nations summit scheduled for this week.
In his visit to Facebook headquarters Modi answered pre-selected questions from the audience in an interview moderated by founder Mark Zuckerberg, including some touching on social media. Although no panacea, social media will help keep governments honest by giving constituents a forum to complain about corruption and misguided policies, according to Modi, who advised, “To leaders all over the world: you are not going to gain by running away from social media,” adding, “You’ll have a good government if you have many channels” of communication.
Modi also praised social media’s potential for lifting people out of poverty by giving them access to more information, as well as encouraging understanding between people: “Social media is reducing social barriers. It connects people on the strength of human values, not identities.”
Last but not least, social media is also transforming diplomacy, Modi noted, citing an example from his own recent use: after he wished China’s prime minister Li Keqiang a happy birthday on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, the greeting went viral, sparking media coverage and a public conversation about China and India’s warming relationship. Modi added: “No one thought this is what diplomacy would look like.”
Facebook wasn’t the only company basking in the PM’s glow during his visit to Silicon Valley. During Modi’s visit to Google, execs revealed that Google will be bringing Wifi connectivity to hundreds of train stations across India, as part of a larger government initiative to expand digital infrastructure throughout the country.