A Cricket Dispute Leads to a Twitter Win in India

A year ago, Twitter wasn't on the radar screen for most Indians, let alone their PC screens. In the last few months, though, that's changed, and more than 2.3 million people on the Subcontinent tweet and Twitter away their time. That's nothing compared with the U.S., where some 22 million use the microblogging site. But it's a big leap forward, or backward, depending on how you look at it.

What changed? It appears that a heated cricket controversy, playing out in the arena of social media, may have something to do with it. The drama started in February, when Lalit Modi, the founder of the Indian Premier League, was accused of playing favorites in selling new cricket franchises and awarding broadcast rights. Pointing the finger was Shashi Tharoor, a member of Parliament and Foreign Ministry official. He has 774,000 followers on Twitter, more than any other tweeter in India. Tharoor forced the issue online, Modi tweeted his denials —as well as a few accusations of his own—and suddenly the dispute blasted its way into newspapers and onto TV, carrying the Twitter brand name along with it.

Now the government is investigating Modi. Tharoor, facing questions about how a close friend got a piece of a cricket team, has been forced to resign from the Foreign Ministry, though he denies any wrongdoing. And Twitter suddenly has the attention of the second-most-populous nation on earth (or a little piece of it). Twitter page views in India jumped to 45 million in March, up from 26 million in December, a 73 percent increase. Over the same period there was a 21 percent increase in the U.S., according to researcher comScore (SCOR).

Bollywood megastarlet and cricket team owner Shilpa Shetty recently tweeted that Modi has "Made India Proud," and then asked her 48,000 followers to help her choose an outfit for a party. Sachin Tendulkar, India's most popular cricket player, joined Twitter on May 4. On his first day, he sent 11 tweets along the lines of: "Got stitches removed and the dr feels it will take more time to recover. Will keep you posted on this." At last count, he had 280,000 followers.

The bottom line: When opponents in a fight over cricket aired their grievances via Twitter, Indian use of the microblogging service soared.

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