Social media played a big role in getting the Damodardass Modi-led government into power, it was claimed. It was also vital to the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi.
And almost all the traction the Umbrella Movement led by Joshua Wong and Nathan Law in Hong Kong received, it owed to Facebook. The US presidential election and victory for Donald Trump was supposedly stage-managed by the Russians through some clever fake news campaigns, and social media sites including Twitter.
Of course, one cannot overlook the role played by social media at the beginning of the Arab Spring movement which commenced in Egypt where people united through Facebook as the main communication link.
The disruptive power of social media and the kind of misinformation it is able to spread within a limited span of time demands caution in the way it is used. Fake reports of salt shortage in the country, or of new currency being embedded with microchips to help their detection even 120 feet underground were able to fool many in the year just-ended.
But the country’s leaders have made it fashionable to be on Twitter to keep the nation informed realtime. And traditional and new media, too, have become dependent on tweets.
Channels of communication — particularly those that facilitate mutual exchange of information or ideas — are undoubtedly quite beneficial for good governance. But the extreme freedom granted by these media today leaves the backdoor open for inimical interests to creep in.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has had to warn a twitteratti from India, a techie, against the indiscretion he had shown in seeking a transfer for his railway employee wife from Jhansi to Pune. The man was probably encouraged by the minister’s empathetic response to an NRI who was facing trouble with his wife’s passport.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu, too, had to respond to the tweet, which was forwarded to him by Swaraj, to clarify that he was in no way interfering with administrative affairs of the national carrier.
The engagement of our leaders with these democratic modes of communication of our times appears to be rife with risks. With the base of internet users expanding, the size of the populace that stands to be linked and influenced by social media is also growing.
India has 160 million WhatsApp users, which is a significant portion of the site’s 1 billion plus customer base. The country also has 148 million Facebook users and over 22 million Twitter accounts. However, this is only a minuscule fraction of the population of this country.
Those numbers may increase manifold but, as of now, social media does not reach deep enough in India. Especially the rural population seems totally disconnected from this flimsy method of communication.
It is to be noted that the present trend of modern politicians and government officials to depend excessively on this mode of communication seems undependable and fragmented. As far as person to person communication is required, this media may be ideal. However, at a larger scale, it can still be termed the anti-social media.