The government and the general public have been sparring over Internet censorship for the longest time now. Over the past year, we have seen several instances of the government trying to clamp down on social networking sites and even exercise control over online content. The latest instance is the suspension of Twitter handles and several sites, in the aftermath of violence in Assam that resulted in the exodus of the people of the Northeast from several parts of the country. The proponents of free Internet have heavily criticised the government’s actions.
A common accusation levelled against the government was the fact that it lacked the understanding of the medium and therefore, cannot or should not be allowed to regulate it. However, this is bound to change, as finally the Government has woken up to the need of engaging via social media and in August this year, issued guidelines about use of social media to its various departments. These guidelines talk the need for social media, which platforms to use, rules of engagement, interactions, confidential information etc. and can be accessed from here.
While it will be some time before we are able to interact with various government department on social media, over the years, there have been some government officials that include high ranking politicians and even certain government agencies making their presence felt on social media. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Narendra Modi became the first Indian politician to have Google+ Hangout
Modi leads the way
When speaking about use of social media by Government officials, we have to begin with Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat. It’s not just due to his recent Google+ Hangout initiative, which by the way made him the first Indian politician to have used the feature. Narendra Modi has been active on the Internet thanks to his website and YouTube channel, long before the popularity of social media. His YouTube channel created way back in 2007 features over a thousand videos and has over seventeen thousand subscribers. These are videos of public rallies, functions and events that Modi has been a part of. Though there are speculations about his role in the infamous Gujarat riots, no one can deny the cult status that he enjoys in the state. This is largely thanks to the developmental projects he has undertaken and changed the economy of the state for the better.
And unlike other politicians, he was quick to realise and adapt the new means of communication, i.e. social media. He has his presence on Facebook as well as Twitter, both of which are updated on a regular basis. This is his bid to connect to the youth and he seems to have succeeded looking at the number of followers he enjoys. He has over eight lakh followers on his Facebook page and over nine lakh Twitter followers, both of which he joined in 2009. His updates, targeting the youth, are mostly inspiring quotes of Swami Vivekananda and scriptures, as well as information about his recent activities. He also became the first Indian politician to use the Google+ Hangout feature to interact with citizens, which was met with huge success. It goes without saying that he truly understands the medium and uses it to the hilt. But most notably, he is also against Internet censorship. When certain Twitter handles were recently suspended after the Assam violence, he not only criticised the move, but even used a black image as his display picture on Twitter as a mark of protest. What’s also admirable is the fact that he has more or less managed to stay away from the controversy arising out of social media activities, unlike many of his contemporaries.
Mamta Banerjee recently joined the social media bandwagon
Apart from Narendra Modi, other prominent political personalities on social media include the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Omar Abdulla, Nirupama Rao, Sushma Swaraj, Varun Gandhi and Milind Deora. Amongst them Shashi Tharoor is undoubtedly the most popular and widely followed. And thanks to his foot-in-the mouth Tweets, more often than not he lands in trouble and is always in the news. The latest to join the bandwagon is Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. If you recall, earlier this year Didi fumed over a cartoon that was being shared on Facebook and was convinced that it was a part of conspiracy by the opposition to malign her image via the social media. But now that she has officially joined Facebook, she didn’t shy away from taking a jibe at PM’s decision over the matter of retail FDI. She in fact posted letters dated a couple of years ago, which show that our PM then in opposition was against the retail reforms.
PMO's official Twitter account
Dr. Manmohan Singh doesn’t seem to enjoy much popularity on social media. Though his official Facebook page was established way back in June 2008, it has a little more than three lakh likes. One reason could be due to the fact that the page is updated infrequently. In January this year, PMO joined Twitter and seems to have more luck with it, as within a short span it has managed to gather over two lakh followers. The Twitter account is updated much more frequently than Facebook and talks about his views on current issues and his addresses to the nation as well as provides information about official events. Besides this, PMO also makes use of YouTube, which is updated on a regular basis.
In addition to the politicians, even several political parties have their official presence on social media sites in a bid to connect with the voters. If we compare the two major parties, i.e. the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then the latter clearly emerges as a winner. The official Facebook page of the Indian National Congress that was established in early 2009 was fairly active in the beginning till early 2010. After that there has been a slump in activity on the page; however, this does not deter followers from venting their anger against the government or Congress loyalists from singing praises. Unlike the Indian National Congress page, BJP is making good use of the platform via its official Facebook page and has over five lakh page likes. Right from conducting polls to posting latest pictures and videos of part gatherings as well as talking about its various initiatives, the page is well maintained.
Ministry of External Affair made good use of Twitter during the Libya crisis
Government bodies leveraging the networks
There are even several government bodies seen leveraging the social media sites. As a part of DoT’s pilot project, the first government agency to join the social media back in 2011 was the Ministry of External Affairs. It was started to create a positive image for India and reach out to people. While today, its Facebook page lies in a state of neglect; the same cannot be said about Twitter. It has over forty two thousand followers on Twitter and the account is updated on a regular basis. In fact, the initiative was commended especially due to its role during the Libya crisis. Not only did they put up relevant information about the situation, but they also helped Indians stuck in Libya to return home safely. They could reach out to people who were stuck in Libya based on the information posted on Twitter by their family members.
Traffic Police of various states have been making good use of social media
Another good example of government body that has effectively used social media is the Traffic Police in various cities. These include Traffic Police Chandigarh, Bangalore Traffic Police, Delhi Traffic Police and Mumbai Traffic Police. Apart from the regular traffic updates, they also respond to people’s complaints and even educate citizens about road safety rules. What also recently made news was an initiative by the Delhi Traffic Police that urged its citizens to upload pictures of traffic rules offenders and successfully nabbed over 20,000 of them. The Bangalore Traffic Police also has a similar initiative to nab rule offenders. Both Delhi and Bangalore traffic police are leveraging Facebook to the hilt and the initiatives have been immensely popular amongst the citizens as well. Even the Chandigarh Traffic Police is equally active; however, the Mumbai Traffic Police, which was fairly active during the initial stages, has lately remained inactive.
Are you aware of any other government agency actively using social media to reach out to people? Do let us know.