New content formats are gaining popularity. With the right approach, India can become a major force to reckon with in the digital arena
In the ever-evolving landscape of global power dynamics, a new realm of influence has emerged alongside traditional forms of power. This new domain, which can be referred to as "digital power," mirrors the concept of soft power, but it operates through the vast, interconnected networks of the internet and social media platforms.
The success of Suleman
Suleman, a young and charismatic content creator from Pakistan, ventured into the world of YouTube a few years ago. His initial videos were well-received within his home country, but he yearned for more substantial growth. Recognising the immense potential of the Indian audience, he made a strategic move—he started reacting to Indian content and speaking positively about India and its people.
In a short span, Suleman's channel began to thrive on Indian viewership. His reactions to popular Indian movies, music, and cultural events garnered millions of views. Many such stories, amongst Suleman’s, are reflective of the rise of India’s digital power to wilfully coerce them to design their content to suit the Indian audience.
The Reach of the Internet
In 2022, India witnessed a significant milestone in its digital journey. According to a report published by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), 52% of the Indian population, totalling 759 million people, had access to the Internet at least once a month. This statistic is a testament to the growing digitalization of the nation.
Out of these 759 million active internet users, 399 million hail from rural areas, while 360 million reside in urban centres. Surprisingly, rural India played a pivotal role in driving the growth of the internet in the country, with a 14% growth rate in 2022 compared to 6% in urban areas. The report also projected that 56% of all new internet users in India by 2025 would come from rural areas. This growth is expected to bridge the gender gap in internet access, with 65% of new users in 2025 being women.
Moreover, the digital penetration in India goes beyond mere access to the internet. The report highlighted the depth of digital engagement among users. While mobile phones remained the primary means of internet access, the usage of other devices like tablets and streaming devices grew from 8% in 2021 to 13% in 2022.
YouTubers in India
Indians' affinity for digital entertainment is epitomised by their love for online video content. In the 15 months from January 2022 to March 2023, Indians collectively spent a staggering 6.1 trillion minutes watching online videos. What's more intriguing is that a significant portion of this time, a whopping 88%, was spent on YouTube alone.
Since its launch in India in The Digital Influencers
YouTube has not only transformed the entertainment landscape in India but also the career aspirations of millions. A decade ago, working as a content creator on YouTube seemed unthinkable as a viable career option. However, recent figures shared by Google and YouTube reveal a complex reality.
According to these reports, YouTube's creative ecosystem contributed over Rs 10,000 crore to the Indian GDP in 2021 and generated more than 750,000 full-time equivalent jobs in India. On average, each content creator earned around Rs 1.3 lakh per annum in 2021, highlighting the vast potential concentrated in such mediums as YouTube.
The Digital Power
As India's digital prowess continues to ascend, it finds itself at the threshold of a new frontier in global diplomacy—one where soft coercion through digital influence plays a pivotal role. Recognising the potential of this paradigm shift, India can strategically employ its digital capabilities to subtly shape international dynamics and achieve its objectives. Introducing the acronym "DIGIFORCE": Digital Influence for Global Foreign Objective Realisation and Coercive Effect.
DIGIFORCE embodies India's commitment to harnessing its digital might by exerting a persuasive and non-coercive influence on foreign nations to align with its objectives and values. It signifies a nation that understands the power of subtlety in diplomacy, leveraging digital means to achieve strategic goals while maintaining amicable international relations. With DIGIFORCE as our strategic tool, India can embark on a path of digital diplomacy that empowers it to softly coerce foreign countries by showcasing its innovative strengths, global influence, and commitment to common objectives. By forging mutually beneficial partnerships and encouraging cooperation, India can lead with digital finesse on the global stage, creating a world where its digital influence promotes stability, progress, and shared prosperity. The future of diplomacy is digital, and with DIGIFORCE, India is poised to master this art, ensuring a harmonious and interconnected world.
(The writer is a senior public policy consultant, views are personal)