Writer, teacher and academic blogger. Writes a social media trilogy. Forthcoming books: Myth of the Social Media Politics (Primus Books), Intimate Speakers (Fingerprint).Specializes on celebrity culture, political class, culture studies, business politics and technology.
Profound changes are taking place in home country with the unparalleled contributions of expatriates. Among these contributions, one dimension need not be overlooked. Indians living abroad have found a new medium for interacting with their home country, friends and family. Social media, the town square of the world, has begun to gain influence over the chemistry of expatriates bonding with their country.
These nationals, who left the nation for making both ends meet in life were, in fact, relentless agony to the nation and perennial sadness to the family. However, do we know that a new thread of umbilical relation has reproduced in this digital age? Are they more interested in what happens to their country than the actual insiders? Is social media a new social house germinating new social bonds among expatriates?
Many surveys of expatriates around the world display that social media has immense significance in the lives of expatriates living abroad.
There are over one crore People of Indian Origin, and a similar number of non-resident Indians (as on May 2012, available at http://moia.gov.in). Now we have huge expatriate base and obviously, they have rich resources. Saudi Arabia is home to large number of expatriate Indians, especially citizens from Kerala, and most of them go in search of better jobs and opportunities. However, the loss of close family and friendship ties is undeniable. So is the bonding and strong-tie capital there of. Thanks to technology, expatriates have now turned to modern communication tools like Facebook, Skype and Twitter to be able to stay in touch with loved ones.
The most evident reason for the rise in the social media trend is that it offers cheaper means of communication compared to landlines and mobile phones. In addition, the technology is instant which keeps people connected with the world around the clock. Overseas Indians are not so reluctant to leave their homelands anymore as technology has made the transition much easier.
A Facebook video recently uploaded by a Gulf-based Kerala user got whopping comments, ‘Likes’ and shares among a bunch of fellow national strangers both within and outside the country following a bus accident causing tragic deaths and human casualties in Malappuram district in Kerala. The content is an emotional speech by a home-sick national requesting bus driver in the State to be more vigilant at road and be safe while driving! However, the comment threads indicate how emotional he is about the happenings in the State. A sweeping look at his Facebook Wall indicates that all what he updated pertains to happenings in the home State!
More interestingly, YouTube sensation, Chandralekha, a poor housewife in Kerala, recently became a popular play back singer, when non-resident Indians copiously commented and shared a song uploaded to YouTube. She got more than ten Lac likes on her song. The content of the video was her singing from the walls of her kitchen in a hut like house, and someone uploaded the video clip from mobile to YouTube! Someone from Gulf region commented on her song; describing her as a jewel in the dustbin! Many followed, many shared, and finally she became a YouTube sensation in the State!
Of course, a fleeting look at the Facebook pages, blogs and social media badges of fifth estate news websites give us ample evidence that a new social house has already born in fifth esate of India where Diaspora are more emotional about the home country!
Alakode Vishengal (News About Alakkode), A Facebook page pertaining to a remote area of Kerala is popular among Diaspora of the region. The page updates about almost everything to the region from birth to death. A new way of alone together happens among nationals within and outside the country in the fifth e-state. Social media platforms such as Facebook cater to this new spirit of social bond.
Cherupuzha Times, a webpage steered by natives of rural area in Kerala, is a dedicated website for the cause of Cherupuzha area. The website updates local news pertaining to the region and has large audience basis among natives as well as people living abroad.
Although initial data showed that while email is still the most popular way for expatriates to stay in touch with far-off friends and family, an increasing number of people are finding more modern communication tools like Twitter and Skype indispensable for keeping up with the news from home.
Facebook is popular for people abroad to stay connected with family and friends at home. Google Plus and YouTube create a new social circle for the expatriates. Without Skype life could have become almost ironical, opines an Australia settled Keralite via Gmail.
Being connected is quite incredible. It helps families stay in touch, kids develop relationships with grandparents and friends stay updated, but it is not without some loss. Yes, technology is bringing us closer together, but there is no chance that it could ever replace person-to-person, physical relationships.
A number of blogs and websites has already developed to the cause of expatriates living aboard (see http://www.expatsblog.com/, a webpage that gives information and guide to lives of expatriates all over the world).
The government use of social media often lends a hand for expatriates and people abroad. In times of conflicts and humanitarian crisis, government using social media has often provided a useful channel for expatriates to connect with relatives at home country.
The Ministry of External Affairs in 2011 had been updating relevant information about the crisis in Libya via social media accounts. The Twitter profile helped Indians trapped in Libya to return home safely. It helped family and officials to reach out to expatriates who have caught in Libya. Based on the information posted on Twitter by their family members, platforms helped a two way communication in times of crisis in which access is almost difficult in a foreign country.
Twitter and Facebook are representing voices of expatriate Indians abroad and their concerns on home country. What is even more remarkable is that these online platforms are not only in use for simple pontification and acerbic commentary. These tools, in fact, are being used to replace staid development paradigms.
The Twitter and YouTube network has revolutionised political discourse and rewritten the rules of development dialogue in domestic society. Expatriates and Diaspora have been influencing policy outcomes in domestic society by their active participation in social media platforms that lead discussion on parent country. Therefore, social media paved way for building strong bonding capital. This could be more helpful for government to utilize the potential resources and rich experiences of expatriates for development and building strong bonds.
Politicians such as Shashi Tharoor and Narendra Modi have been expanding overseas follower basis. They were fervently under immediate attention of expatriates. In Fact, by strategy they represent Indian voices abroad among the expatriates. Perhaps their targeted and strategic use of platforms helps them cast a political billboard image abroad via Internet platforms. Most Internet posts of Modi and Shashi Throor have frequent Likes, shares and replies among the expatriate community, confirms a bird’s eye view of their Facebook Time lines and tweets.
In short, social media is enhancing strong bonding capital with expatriates. Governments, family, friends, and expatriates are stakeholders in this process. However, serious attention needs to be given to the expatriate dimension of social media at policy level, which at present is conspicuous by its absence. We need to tap the potential of platforms more vigorously for bringing more changes via digital media platforms in the days ahead. Expatriates will, of course benefit from social media, so are the family and Government.
Now, it is time to think of an expatriate social media policy for the government. Exclusive government platforms dedicated for being in connection with people abroad becomes a necessity. Hope that government will soon realise the potential of the platforms for effecting and reaching out to expatriates in a better way.