Social media is perhaps one of the most innovative inventions of recent times. The entire social media network includes one of the largest populations that are spread across the globe; Facebook in itself could be considered the third largest nation in the world with more than one billion users. Such is the power of the social media that a ‘revolution’ originating in the US can travel to India in moments, for example, the Ice Bucket Challenge.
In this social media rule, everyone, from the citizens to businesses, from journalists to government officials use social media different ways. People use it to voice their concern about civic issues, to share news, to take action, and to stay touch with people across the globe. The aam junta can also remain connected with the Prime Minister thanks to this very platform. But this is not where it all ends, during this time of unprecedented social media use it can actively benefit political communication, interaction between governments and citizens, thereby bringing in good modern-day governance both domestically and internationally. We have also seen the PM of our country connecting with celebrities on Twitter and that really fascinates us as we are a celebrity influenced nation.
Not so long ago in 2011, something happened that stressed on the role of social media for good governance. The Arab Spring, the democratic uprising that originated independently and spread across the Arab world, was one such revolution that used the social media technology that acted as a catalyst to bring about a change in an unpredictable environment. The use and availability of social media connected influential thought leaders with the common people and increased the network. The outcome of the Arab Spring went on to prove that society is no longer dominated by governments, instead power lies in communities.
So, if the government is not to lose control over the society and instead focus on good governance, it will be smart and adopt social media in its day-to-day life. As the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi recently said in one of his speeches, “I would like to tell all world leaders, you won’t gain by running away from social media.” Mr Modi, who joined the social media out of curiosity for technology and went on to become the second most popular politician in the world after US president, Barack Obama, also said social media served as a guide for him and brought about a change in his thought process. “There is a gap between the people and the government,” said Mr Modi and added, “The government used to come in power for five years but by the time it connected with people, the term would get over. But with social media, you can stay connected with people on a daily basis. They can ask the government to change the direction when they realize that it’s going wrong giving the government the opportunity to improve. One can also access a lot of information in real time when connected through social media.”
Social media can help coordinate large and discrete activities, such as protests and election observation. What the different governments of the world should realize is these technologies can help to improve day-to-day governance and improve political accountability. Also, as a transparency instrument, mobile governance relies on outflows of information from citizens to each other, and to governments and NGOs. Like traditional media, social media also has come to play an important role in promoting good governance. Egypt is one of the forward thinking nations that has realized and applied it.
Earlier, the mechanisms that governments used to apply were very slow to bring in any changes. When anything happened in the world, we’d get to know only when through the newspaper the next morning but things have changed now with social media where we get to know about things as they unfold. And, if a government is alert and aware it can use this real time information to correct and use its policy frame work. The earlier definition of diplomacy meant governments of different countries being in touch with each other, but now, through social media, even the citizens of countries are connected.
Apart from this, social media also many times has come to the rescue of the distressed. It has been especially used actively by the Indian External Affairs Ministry team. The former England cricket captain Kevin Pieterson posted a query related to his visa approval on the ministry’s Twitter handle and received a positive reply within 24 hours. Also, during the Yemen crisis, Sushma Swaraj responded to an SOS post on Twitter by a Yemeni woman who reached out to the PM and the External Affairs Minister to evacuate her and her 8-month-old son.
Social media played a very important role in the 2014 elections. A lot of political parties and candidates have used social media to reach out to the voters, particularly the youth. With more than 150 million first time voters between age group of 18-23 being social media savvy, politicians were aware that they would be greatly influenced by social media.
Benefits of using social media in government:
- Cost effective and time efficient: It’s faster, cheaper and easier to provide information through different social media channels. It is efficient too and reaches the youth who are more likely to access social media and also comprise larger percentage of the Indian population.
- Helps improve governance: Apart from providing quick and efficient information to the public, social media is also very transparent. This can go a long way in strengthening the goodwill of the people towards the government. People can connect with the government on real time basis and inform it when it is going wrong.
- Direct access to government officials: One of the biggest benefits of social media is the direct access to government officials. Citizens don’t have to now pass layers of security before talking to the concerned official and get their issues resolved.
- Innovative methods of working: When there is direct connect with the public, the government can come out with innovative methods of governance including ones that can work online too.
While there are advantages of social media in governance, there are a few disadvantages too like risking of exposing sensitive data. But, in the long run, the benefits outnumber the disadvantages. In fact, many of the local politicians now rely heavily on social media to connect with the citizens and hear out their grievances and even invite feedbacks.