Social media is not a dirty phrase. It is a technology solution that is staring at the face of government to effectively utilise it to reach out to its constituents. Yet, instead of doing just that, the government has often resorted to using its powers to limit the growth of social media. If earlier it were Web groups or forums, a couple of weeks ago it was Facebook, Twitter and few blogs that faced the wrath of ministers and bureaucrats who could not fathom how to “control” this beast with information, so they just banned or blocked them.
It is heartening to hear, therefore, that the Union government has issued directives to several state governments to get on to social media and use it for information dissemination. It is a no-brainer that both the government and the general public would benefit as a consequence.
There are challenges to this simple directive, though. One is the lack of political will to get close to the masses using technology. Historically, governments in India — both state as well as Central — have been found wanting in the use of Web technologies. Indeed, their actions seem to paint technology as evil rather than an enabling tool. For instance, when rumours of a possible exodus of North-East citizens began to spread via SMS and through the media — both traditional as well as social — the government did nothing to counter it. Instead, it began banning Twitter IDs and Facebook pages.
This act was clearly out of ignorance of how these technologies work as a cultural and social tool. It was also a direct, full-frontal attack on the freedom of speech. The credibility of the government in using this technology was at an all-time low.
Perhaps the directive to use social media will make bureaucrats and other officials think harder when it comes to using technology as an outreach tool. There will be those who stumble along the way, but that’s fine as long as they finally learn to walk.