Use of Social Media in Governance


Social media have become new craze in Delhi Durbar.  Seems, someone has realized that it is going to be one of most influential medium in coming times. To stay in tune with public opinion, to build a competitive advantage (Considering the new youth generation is tech-savvy and constitute majority of peoples & voters), the new government has issued dictate to all the ministers to become active on social media. They informal guidelines have also instructed them to use social media widely in policy formulation.

Some of issues which need deeper analysis in this context are: Are these new norms going to fundamentally alter the way government function? How is it going to influence the efficiency and efficacy of government? Will it allow having greater say of ‘Mango Man’ in public policy formulation? What are positives and negatives of such a strategy? Can it be substitute for real discussion, deliberation and debate which were till now used in governments to handle the various issues by previous governments ? Can we reconcile old way of working with this new ‘Ginny’?

First let’s guess what are possible negative impacts expected. What are the negative externalities on government and nation? Some of possible pitfalls/Shortcomings are:

  1. It would most probably create another set of elites (Urban, Higher Educated, and Middle class & English speaking) who have predominated influence in policy making. Policy makers may take interest of this section of as real interest of people of India, which may not be entirely true. The social media users are not representative of microsm of India though it is much broader & closer to India’s microsm than traditional elites on whose opinion the policy makers have depended so far.  

 

Ok, wait a second, with new guidelines for use of Hindi in Social Media in Hindi by Ministry of Home Affairs to all the ministries and departments of GoI that could alter significantly. This has potential not only to reach a much wider audience but may also force companies (from social Media sites to phone makers to app builders) to alter their strategy by focusing more on vernacular languages rather than just being limited to English.

  1. Exclusive reliance (or over reliance) is just like putting all your eggs in a bucket which is not a good strategy.
  2. Social media is ‘Double edges sword’. The reputation can be fast damaged by unknown person hiding behind the veil of anonymity in cyber world. The focused groups with ulterior intentions (including the hostile countries & non-state actors) can influence (or distort) the opinion in social media.   
  3. Instant reaction, condemnation and criticism may have chilling impact on governance. Long term goals may be traded with instant glorification.  Such short term tactics may prove counter-productive to long term strategy and goals of nation. Nature of immediate response makes it harder to focus on tasks/decision which may have bitter reaction in short term.
  4. There is always temptation to play to gallery.
  5. Too much reliance on social media reduces the attention span. The governance focus may shift to short term goals and making immediately followers happy rather than focusing on long term strategies which in short term may be bitter in taste.
  6. Probabilities for backlash are even greater. The even a minor mistakes or goof-up got hyper-exaggerated response.
  7. Off course, it is too much time consuming. If ministers devout such a valuable time in formulating policies to tackle the diverse problems facing the country, it would be more wise and prudent use of time.
  8. It doesn’t need highlighting that social media is one of non-productive use of new technology. It doesn’t add to output, production or people’s in earning bucks to make their life comfortable. On other hand, people waste (Am I not doing the same by writing this blog!!!) a great deal of time in social network which could be put to more productive use to improve the standard of living. It is fast becoming a type of new addiction with negative externalities for both individual and society.
  9. Many Ministers may not be fully acquainted with this new technology. Even if they are aware of how to use, they may not be fully aware of how to make best use it. They may not be able to differentiate between official and personal matters in absence of clear set of guidelines.

After highlighting the possible negative impacts of use of social media in governance, let’s also appreciate the fact that it has potential to change the rules of games. It can make governance more accessible, approachable, transparent and participative. It could be transformative in establishing new norms of governance where ministers are accountable to people not just in every five year but every second. They are even responding to a query or grievance from ‘Mango man’ (two political parties have already claimed and in some extent maligned the Hindi word ‘Aam Aadmi’ so it’s better to stick to Mango Man). If properly utilized it could become potent tool to engage directly with citizenry and reduce the influence of traditional inter mediatory/brokers like TV Journalists.

Most of Ministers in new Cabinet are technology savvy with substantial active engagement in social media. So far they have shown openness to ideas and suggestion and some even providing proper medium for such ideas (HRD minister has created the specific email Id for suggestion and disseminated the same on social Media).

The guidelines on use of social media can be effectively used & their impact be enhanced if they are coupled with real intention to engage the Citizenry in governance by online as well as offline institutional mechanism.

It makes much more sense when social media is used as one of many mediums at disposal to government to make conversations with citizens. It would be productive when suggestions on social media are utilized to improve the working of system. The Happy Synergy between Offline and Online Engagement can make a long lasting marriage with both partners enjoying the benefits of married life. It adds values to both the partners (Government and Citizens).

What it requires for long lasting two ways relationship is, not adhoc initiative, but a institutional set-up.  One possible way of institutionalizing the integrated online and offline engagement is arrangement where in Open Forum is organized by Ministers regularly in close association with Bureaucrats with specific pre-defined agenda on regular interval. This forum may have meeting open to public or to selected person who have previously shown interest in particular agenda/issue. This could serve as forum for interaction between diverse stakeholders like Common citizens, advocacy groups/think tanks, political parties and government can interact to discuss, deliberate and dialogues on various issues. This would help to better implantation of policies.

Tough I have not advocating completely disregarding the opinion of older stakeholders (like News papers columnist, few Civil Societ organizations, University professors of selected universities) but you can’t solve the problems with mindsets which created it. This age-old coterie was responsible for much of mess so you need to widen the base and involve the more and more youth. Dual strategy of online connect with offline conversation and dialogues can sustain the motivation on both sides and serve the beneficially to both sides. 

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