Last week, when students from Assam and Manipur fled Bangalore and Pune for their home states after threats received by text messages, social media sites like Twitter sensed the panic early. As it happens, both undesirable, chauvinistic messages and messages of peace and cooperation flew back and forth on Twitter — and my take is that mainstream media and the government both woke up late to the event.
Now, where was the government? I could see activists moving faster than the government, while the prime responsibility of assuring safety, countering threats and dousing rumours was that of the administrations — be it that of Karnataka, Maharashtra or the Centre.
In the same week, I saw a news item about the collector of Madurai in Tamil Nadu using Facebook to reach across to citizens. He is not the first one. The then foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, who is now the ambassador to the US, reached out on Twitter to stranded Indian citizens in Libya to reassure and help them when Col. Gaddafi’s regime was facing a rebellion that hit thousands of Indian workers.
Delhi Police now effectively uses Facebook and Twitter to deal with traffic issues. The Prime Minister’s Office, India Post and the Press Information Bureau are also there on Twitter, though in a subdued way.
Last year, some of us keenly involved in the social media were consulted by the ministry of external affairs through the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) to suggest ways to improve the use of social media in diplomacy.
Several bureaucrats and diplomats in their individual capacities have put Twitter and Facebook to good use to sense public mood and reach out to citizens. However, this needs a more institutionalised response in which the ministry of external affairs and Delhi Police have been more pro-active than others.
In the world of business, there are hot new terms such as F-commerce (the use of Facebook and appplications linked to it to boost trade) and social CRM (use of social media for customer relations management).
Perhaps it is time to talk S-governance, which, as an extension of e-governance (electronic governance) can use social media to both listen to the social buzz and respond quickly to emerging situations.
As one Twitter follower, Rajkannan Rajan, told me: “I personally feel we should have Twitter accounts for defence, fire, disaster management, police, healthcare etc”
Regional police chiefs, district magistrates, railway divisions and heads of various government departments and relief agencies need to use the social media better. Effective software applications, practices and procedures need to be evolved for s-governance. The time has come.