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.
With the sweeping penetration of 2.0 Movement, unprecedented changes are taking place in political spheres. User generated content will have dramatic influence on government platforms. This is true to say that political class using social media, is a mark of Government 2.0.
THE BUZZ words for open government and democratization process are transparency, collaboration and participation. Practices based on open government framework are flourishing in India.
However, it is argued that the existing open government initiatives such as open government enactments, laws and other initiatives like RTI are insufficient as there is a visible lack of transparency, collaboration and participation on the part of citizens in India. Therefore, technology mediated participation and collaboration are binding for achieving open government in India.
The political class using social media for campaigning, disseminating and networking is sign of Govt 2.0 which also leads to Open Government in India. Government in general and various Ministries, Departments and other Institutions along with Government at different levels can make use of social media platforms and other open source software, all of which can configure a Govt 2.0.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogger, Emails, Chat options and other such social media platforms can be influential in this process which can guarantee Govt.2.0 and Open Government in India. The rampant use of social media in electoral engagement and even use of social media by government agencies is a mark of Govt 2.0.
At a time when politics becomes distinctly hierarchical and feudalistic, engaging with citizens is almost an ancient ideal and remains only in principle. Institutionalized politics has become an anachronism when civil society supersedes established way of exchange and negotiation.
Democratising democracies become an inevitable corollary of modern democracy and an ideal. Open Government is an indicator of democratisation of democracy. It is therefore, a prerequisite of every government to become ‘Transparent’, ‘Participatory’ and ‘Collaborative’.
The Government 2.0 is an attempt to highlight the place of social media in Open government Movement. In today’s networked world, the public sector and public authority is tapping into new media applications to increase participation, transparency and collaboration. This has been laid down by open government agenda which gained impetus over the past few years. It is now extensively acknowledged that greater openness, transparency and collaboration benefits not only citizens but also government itself.
The rationale of Govt 2.0 is to introduce fresh indicator for measuring government openness, transparency and collaboration. Existing open government indicators tend to focus either on the presence of key laws and institutions, or on citizens perceptions of government performance. The underlying argument is that conventional notions of openness, transparency and collaboration are insufficient to understand Open Government. The degree to which governments deal with social media is now part of how they deal with civil liberties, press freedom, privacy and freedom of expression in general.
Government on social Media: The Platform?
The social in Social Media entail the tools, places and services that allow people to gather for social interaction. Social media allows individuals to gather and express themselves in a much more simple and immediate fashion. By giving people this capability, they not only have the ability to share ideas, opinions and other contents, but also (if they wish) gain notoriety, and expand their influence.
Social networking and social media websites correspond to a shift in how people discover, read, and share news, information, and content; they are a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one-to-many) into dialogues (many-to-many), and they are the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into content publishers. The social nature of these websites helps to build online communities of people who carve interests, activities, or both, or people interested in exploring the interests and activities of others.
The relevance of social media platforms come at the critical juncture of recent government attempts to improve transparency by enhancing technology-enabled government citizen direct interaction. The citizen government direct interaction can be attainable if there is a strong social media policy which provides profound vigilance for use of platforms for engaging with citizen concerns. Check, share, comment, like, tweet, view, update, retweet, follow, blog, post, delete, upload, scrap, sign in, register, chat, stream, wall, note etc., are devices by which government can reach out to citizens and vice versa in an unparalleled manner. Social media tools present unmatched opportunities for collaborative government, but implementing these tools in government comes with unique challenges.
Government can use enormous social media platforms and tools to connect with people. Government on social media means ‘government on platform’. In that sense, a plethora of tools are usable and applicable for government to come online. Micro-blogging, Wikis, Video & Photo Sharing, Podcasting, Social Networking Sites, Social Bookmarking Sites, Mashups, Widgets, Virtual Worlds, Social Media Releases, Social News Rooms are instances where government is in line with the citizen.
Government using social media will have reflective implications both at levels of governance and civil society. Bridging the gap between citizens and institutions are concerns of every democratic society. Inclusion and accommodation makes daunting challenges for government at work. In a spectacular manner, a government on social media will have many obvious implications. It can increase dissemination of information, generate awareness, enhance use of institutions, encourage usefulness of services, and services reflect on wider society.
Social Media can enlarge government contact to new and diverse audiences. Viral impact can be attained on every decision of institutions. Facilitate interactive communication & community between citizen and government. Put human face on government. Knowledge distribution perks up quality of services and governance. Cross boundaries, inside and outside outfit will be enhanced with the rise of government on social media. Diminish replication. Save time and money of both government and citizen.
Being open and transparent means offering the public the information they want, before they want it. It means offering new services without them having been requested. And it means innovating in the way we communicate to support those new offerings. Open Government doesn’t simply make it easy to access and understand government data; it makes it easy for users to interact around it. Users can gather around an individual bill and discuss the bill in comments. The site even offers RSS feeds for individual bills, so you can keep up with when actions are taken regarding that particular item.
Open Government and Social Media
Social media technologies hold great promise in their ability to transform governance by increasing government’s transparency and its interaction with citizens. The interactive and instant capabilities and the increasingly pervasive nature of social media technologies can create new ways of democratic participation, pressures for new institutional structures, and processes and frameworks for open and transparent government on an unprecedented scale. These potentials are profound, but come with challenges in the areas of policy development, governing and governance, process design, and conceptions of democratic engagement. This document provides a selected overview of key issues, questions, and best practice government initiatives regarding social media technologies.
Open Government and Government 2.0 are about more than wikis, open data, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Web 2.0, or social media. It is about the strategic use of technology to transform 21st century government into a platform that is participatory, collaborative, and transparent. Social media can help facilitate this transformation, but starting a blog or Twitter account is by no means a prerequisite. Open government doesn’t start or end with social media. It starts with a mindset to become more participatory, collaborative, and transparent. While government use of social media is often highlighted as best practice examples of open government, they’re by no means the only examples. So, for those who may be might not be ready for social media, there are things that can help organization become more open, and none involve social media.
In general, government missions are much simpler and focus on providing a trustworthy public service upon which citizens can rely. The existing information and communication paradigm is highly hierarchical with standard operating procedures that don’t necessarily support the 140-character news cycle. Instead, blog posts, Facebook and Twitter updates have to be carefully crafted to avoid confusion, rumors, and misinformation. There is rarely an update that goes out without revisions and explicit approval after carefully considering the potential impact or consequences. In this risk-averse communication environment, social media constitutes a departure from the existing standards. Services, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Blogger, YouTube, and others, represent the fastest growing segment of Internet usage. Social media can therefore redefine the way we give meaning to our social world, politics, and world view.
In the 21st century, politics may not be televised but it is likely to be tweeted, blogged, texted, uploaded and posted on Facebook. Government agencies are embracing social media and other platforms to inform and interact with the public. Government 2.0 signals the emergence of IT innovation and the Web as a platform for fostering efficiencies within government and citizen participation.
ACCORDING TO Tim O’Reilly, Government 2.0 is the “idea of the government as platform: how can government design programs to be generative, […] building frameworks that enable people to build new services of their own?”)
In a Forbes Column (August 2009), the phrase has been used as “the opportunities inherent in harnessing a highly motivated and diverse population not just to help politicians, get elected, but to help them do a better job. Citizens are connected like never before and have the skill sets and passion to solve problems affecting them locally as well as nationally. Government information and services can be provided to citizens where and when they need it. Citizens are empowered to spark the innovation that will result in an improved approach to governance.”
Government 2.0 is about the use of technology to encourage a more open and transparent form of government, where the public has a greater role in forming policy and has improved access to government information.
Govt 2.0: the Indian Case
In India, the attempt to ensure transparency, collaboration and participation through an open government initiative seems much belated. However, it can obviously be felt that a government on social media is not too far away from accomplishment. The question is only degree of use than presence or absence of government on platforms. In India, attempts have already been made regarding the use and applicability of social media on governance. In India, many public institutions, which are a part of the government are online and on platforms.
Open Government Platform (OGPL) is a joint product from India and United States to promote transparency and greater citizen engagement by making more government data, documents, tools and processes publicly available. OGPL will be available, as an open source platform. By making this available in useful machine-readable formats it allows developers, analysts, media and academia to develop new applications and insights that will help give citizens more information for better decisions.
In using an open source method of development, the OGPL community will provide future technology enhancements, open government solutions, and community-based technical support. OGPL has become an example of a new era of diplomatic collaborations that benefit the global community to promote government transparency, citizen-focused applications, and enrich humanity.
Government maintains information on a variety of issues, and that information should rightly be considered a national asset. Citizens are connected like never before and have the skill sets and passion to solve problems affecting them locally as well as nationally. Government information and services can be provided to citizens where and when they need it. Citizens are empowered to spark the innovation that will result in an improved approach to governance.
Social media is a key element of many emerging citizen engagement platforms. These platforms give citizens new voices and provide new channels for government workers and elected officials to talk with them. For instance many of ministries have Facebook pages. Many of Facebook profiles of such ministries have widest possible engagement with the public. Along with the ministries, there are many constitutional bodies like Election Commission of India, which have Facebook profiles; giving a feeling to citizens that they can be remain in touch with the highest offices from their home, street, on travel or through any other manner.
Several government bodies have been 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 highly praised, 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.
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.
In India, the Government has already proposed a guideline for using social media by public institutions (FGUSMGO). While the government has just recently issued guidelines to its various departments about the use of social media, there have been several politicians as well as a few official bodies who have been effectively using the medium. Government of India and the general public have been sparring over Internet censorship for the longest time now. Since the past year, it has been seen that government was trying to clamp down on social networking websites and even exercise control over online content. The latest instance is the suspension of Twitter handles and several websites, 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 leveled 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, issued guidelines about use of social media to its various departments.
While it will be some time before we are able to interact with various government departments on social media, over the years, there have been some government officials that include high ranking politicians and even certain government agencies who are making their presence felt on social media. The diplomat Nirupama Rao, is an example.
A new battleground for votes has emerged in the social networking sphere. The politicians who place dynamic digital initiatives at the heart of their campaigns will be best placed to gain. As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action. In the political arena these increased freedoms can help loosely co-ordinated public demand change. In short, the specter of social media is haunting India and attains unimaginable proportion. The background of the epoch we are living in today, the age of the information insurgency, the Internet, the World Wide Web was exemplified remarkably by the First Citizen of India. Just a day after he was sworn in as 13th President, Pranab Mukherjee announced that he would be opening a Facebook account to receive and respond to comments and queries from the public.
The social media comes out to be the fresh amplifier for Indian politicians. Of course, only a minuscule fraction of the political tribe is online but their social media presence could help to blow confidence into voters. Most self-respecting politicians have a Facebook page or at least a placeholder! A few of them have taken a step further and created Twitter accounts. Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee, Shashi Tharoor, Sushma Swaraj etc are a few examples! The PMO’s activity on Twitter must be taken note of – at least five tweets a day including an “Agenda Today” tweet. L.K. Advani shares political as well as his personal thoughts but the main focus remains on politics. He has discussed on various topics including unity, Sachar Committee, phone tapping etc. It is only logical that younger politicians tweet/comment more than their senior counterparts. However, barring a few senior leaders including Omar Abdullah, Milind Deora, and the young man with a potential PM tag Rahul Gandhi, other lads and lasses in the political field have chosen to remain mute in the social media space!
Social media is a tool of engagement, not a revolution in itself. It’s a cheap and fast way to spread message to a large group of people who are sympathetic to some cause.
Discussion of the political impact of social media has focused merely on the power of mass protests to topple governments. In addition debate around social media and political change are confined to a binary debate between digital skeptics and optimists.
In fact, social media’s real potential lies in supporting civil society, open government and the public sphere. Government 2.0 and Open Government are conceptual categories to analyze the democratization of democracy.
India lags far behind in leveraging the potential of social media to achieve transparency, collaboration and participation. However, a Govt 2.0 is on the rise along with a Politics 2.0, Democracy 2.0, Citizen 2.0, and Governance 2.0 etc where Indian political classes are found to have been making use of social media to reach out to the public.
It is obvious that politicians’ using social media is a good sign of democratisation and participatory politics. Most of politicians who use social media to connect with people are middle aged or younger. It is a good sign that when Indian population will reach its youth by 2050, the real potential of engaging with them will be realizable through such platforms. In this decisive moment, social media attains political significance.