The recent elections in India have put a laser focus on one of the hottest phenomena to hit the Internet since email: social media.
There are multiple reports that tell us about the millions of tweets, likes and comments on different sites. I will not go into statistics here but try and relate what I thought as I navigated a fraction of the voter groundswell.
It would be wrong to say that social media is representative of the second most populous nation in the world (one that figures near the top of most “global bad lists”—the most number of illiterates, malnourished children, and people with diseases from diarrhoea to diabetes, etc).
But it would be even more wrong to discount the aspirations and enthusiasm of the millions, mostly young, who participated in severely contested debates on whether Kejri or Modi is more suited to be their future leader (RaGa had some mentions, too).
Why more wrong? Because if you do not give a direction and impetus to what is positive and harp too much on the negative, you will end up wasting the little advantage you have.
As I read the comments, points and counterpoints of these digital enthusiasts, I wondered whether they were as passionate, as involved and as concerned about the political situation as before—when they were not on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media. (I knew that some who posted the most scathing remarks wouldn’t even be voting, but that’s another matter.)
In my view, social media proved to be an easily accessible and prevalent tool through which they could express their hitherto-suppressed feelings and opinions. Earlier, such discussions would happen face-to-face in smaller groups—but not as frequently, not in such large numbers and certainly not written down for others to see!
There is no reason, however, for this power of social media to be confined to expressing angst or elation. Or, for that matter, for a few big names to hog the limelight.
If the government wants, and I do hope it does, it can use the underlying technology tools such as social media monitoring and big data analytics to devise policies and programmes in tune with the needs of a majority of citizens. Further, it can create more social media hooks into its e-governance portals and systems to inform the public as well as to redress complaints and improve services.
Thankfully, some of this has started to happen (External Affairs Ministry, Traffic Police in Delhi and Pune, Kerala Tourism and Indore Police are cited in a study as notable examples). But much more remains to be done.
Taken to a bigger scale in an integrated manner, social media, I believe, can be a significant force for the public good.
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