This year, the Indian Government seems to be taking advantage of social media and using it to reach its public. Just last week Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, joined by a group of experts, hosted a Google+ Hangout to answer the public's questions regarding his budget. Chidambaram described the online chat as “a powerful communication platform”
During the same week, @adgpi appeared on Twitter. This is the Twitter username for the Indian Army who already has a following of over 3K. The army is also looking into setting up an official Facebook page and possibly their own YouTube channel.
Learning this, one might just think that India is acting similar to other governments that are using social networking platforms to interact with their public. But why the sudden change in tune? At the end of 2011, some Indian political leaders suggested pre-screening of social media content. Many in the public saw this as a means of the government trying to silence its critics. In January 2012, the Indian army issued an order that asked all its personnel to quit any social media platforms they had joined and to not join such sites in the future. In the course of a year, the Indian government's view on social media seemed to change. Can it be that the government realized that it is too hard to quiet the voice of the world’s largest democracy or did it just decide to seize the opportunity that social media can bring?
One thing is for sure, if the public wants to be heard, it will be and with the increase in use of smartphones and social media, it is getting easier. According to research done by Nielson last month, there are over 40 million smartphone devices in India and the number is on the rise. Not surprising is the fact that almost half of these devices belong to those younger than 25. Nielson also found that the growth in the usage of smartphones is driven by the desire to stay connected and to have instant access to social networking sites.
So how has the Indian public used social media to be heard by their government? Well, in recent news, you can look at the attention given to such topics as violence against women and corruption. A majority of the protests surrounding these issues were organized via various social networking sites. In my opinion, when you are able to have a collective voice of the masses, it is hard for the truth to be hidden under the rug. This may have been possible in the past but now with eye witnesses tweeting their bits, the mainstream media is probing the government to come clean. One cannot undermine the influence social media had on bringing to light the topic of violence against women and the impact it had on enforcing stricter laws. According to ‘The Times of India’, “The unbridling of the power of the social media was undoubtedly a top, if not number 1 trend of 2012 in India.”
Just like everything in life, social media has its pro and its cons. Fortunately, it has given Indians the power to have a strong united voice and help create positive change. Similar to companies, the Indian government will have to get used to hearing both positive and negative comments from the people whom it serves and use these comments for the better. This year it is good to see that instead of trying to resist the power that is social media, the Indian government has decided to jump on the bandwagon and listen to its people. Whatever the actual rational behind these initiatives, that may never be clear. Perhaps the Indian government has realized it is too difficult to control its people's activity on social networking sites or maybe they have changed their views and see the opportunity to connect...I think this is something worth investigating. I will try to get in touch with the Finance Minister and personnel of the army so stay tuned for the follow up.