Sunday, March 1, 2015

Governments and social media: what lacks is intent, not technology

I was going through social media networks of some governments and public organisations in India and abroad when this old concern resurfaced: How are Indian governments and public service organisations leveraging the potential of social media, and what is being achieved out of it?

In the last few months, ‘social media’ has become a fashionable expression in government circles. Dozens of reports have appeared in major English newspapers on how government offices are adopting social media. Everybody is keen to be on Facebook and Twitter, either to comply with some order from the above, or to be seen tech-savvy, or to tom tom one's achievements. Not only the central government, state governments are equally keen to ride the social media bandwagon. Also Ministers. And senior officers. And PROs...

From opening social media accounts and forgetting them, to using such accounts to broadcast daily engagements and ‘achievements’,  a lot is happening in this area. Governments have found a new toy to play with and toss around. 

This is not the case when it comes to the social media usage by progressive governments and public-spirited organisations. As it happens with all big organisations, a lot of jargon, hierarchy, technological overkill and other forms of crap seeps in even in the best governmental systems in the world, and social media management is no exception. But, many of these governments and organisations have learnt lessons and moved forward. They have learnt to make good use of the new technology. 

Adopting technology as an end to itself?

None of the reformers and mass leaders (remember Guru Nanak and Gandhiji for quick reference) had tools like Facebook and Twitter, and yet they could achieve far better than many of our leaders of the day. None of the great rulers (think of Chandragupta and Akbar) had such tools either, and they delivered much better than many governments of the day. What they had was the intent.  

That takes me to the concern that I referred to earlier. Most of the social media engagement that we in India are obsessed about centres around adopting the technology. At the best, it is taken as a great new tool for communicating, as if that is the end of it. One of the most essential requirements of good governance, the spirit to serve the people, seems to be lacking or at least secondary. (There are some honorable exceptions to this, of course.) There is need for putting the horse before the cart: serving people must come before use of tools. Flashing one's achievements or showing off use of tech must take a back seat.

You might like to browse my earlier take on social media

The views expressed here are observations on a governance topic. I do not intend to praise or blame/ criticise any particular government or associated political formation for what I perceive as governance failures. The views expressed here are my own and do not represent the organisation that I belong to.