Published:  12:43 AM, 17 May 2018

Facebook, WhatsApp play central role in Indian polls

Facebook, WhatsApp play central role in Indian polls Voters in Bengaluru wait to cast ballots in Karnataka state elections on Saturday. -Reuters

Waving a giant saffron flag, Pranav Bhat last week joined a political rally for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India's ruling party here in this sweltering port city on the south-west coast.

Milling on a vast field with his college buddies, Bhat, 18, cheered for Modi and his Hindu-oriented Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was trying to wrest control of Karnataka state from the more secular Indian National Congress in legislative elections.

Yet the most intense political campaigning was not taking place on the streets. Instead, the action was happening on WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook that has about 250 million users in India, reports NY Times. Bhat, a BJP youth leader, said he used WhatsApp to stay in constant touch with the 60 voters he was assigned to track for the party.

He sent them critiques of the state government, dark warnings about Hindus being murdered by Muslims - including a debunked BJP claim that 23 activists were killed by Islamists - and jokes ridiculing Congress leaders.

His own WhatsApp stream was full of election updates, pro-BJP videos, and false news stories, including a fake poll purportedly commissioned by the BBC.

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