India's Modi, in Facebook talk, pushes Internet as key way to govern
MENLO PARK, Calif. — The next step for social media: government.
That’s what Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, said at an event held at Facebook’s headquarters here, who discussed how he’s increasingly used social media to connect with both people in India and other governments. The result has helped bridge the divide between politicians and their constituents.
“We used to have elections every five years, but now we have them every five minutes,” he said, speaking through a translator.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said he was impressed with Modi’s efforts. “It’s fitting that the leader of the world’s largest democracy is setting an example for all world leaders for how to connect with citizens online,” he said.
In a wide-ranging discussion touching on women’s rights, economics and technology, Modi discussed larger efforts to bolster India’s economy, particularly through the Internet. One key effort, he said, will be to link India’s 600,000 villages through fiber optic networks, which he believes are the 21st century highways.
Those efforts will also help to attract foreign investment, he said. “There are many companies who don’t even know where to invest their money, so I’m giving them the address: Here’s the place,” he said to applause.
Modi’s public conversation with Zuckerberg is one of the most high profile events he’s held in Silicon Valley during a trip that began earlier this week. The popular Indian prime minister has been meeting with the heads of the tech industry’s largest companies, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook in addition to Zuckerberg, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Modi is using this trip to connect with the large Indian community here, as well as to stir up interest in upgrading his country’s technology infrastructure.
Modi is also expected to discuss plans to make it easier for investors to buy and sell stakes in Indian startups.
For Zuckerberg, Modi’s visit marks the first time he’s held a public town-hall style event at Facebook with a head of state, since inviting President Barack Obama to a similar event in 2011.
Modi is not the only head of state meeting with the tech industry this week. Earlier, China’s President Xi Jinping met with top tech executives at an event in Seattle, Wash., during which he discussed key issues such as cybercrime and foreign investment.
Analysts say these events mark a recognition among world leaders of the technology industry’s influence and power.
Zuckerberg’s event with Modi is a further recognition of his rising profile on the world’s stage. The Facebook cofounder was at President Xi’s Seattle meeting, for example, and he sat at the head table with President Obama during a state dinner Friday. He then traveled to New York where he announced a partnership with the UN to offer Internet access to refugee camps.
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