Ssocial media has been very useful in highlighting various social and governance-related issues and, therefore, has been quite an effective tool for resolving grievances; and its proper use in this context can actually enhance good governance.
But what is governance? Governance is the decision-making process and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). And according to the United Nations, good governance is measured by eight factors, participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus, fairness and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency and responsibility.
However, the question remains how successful have we as a nation been in achieving good governance such as the criminalization of politics, corruption, gender disparity, increasing incidences of violence, delays in justice, the centralization of the administrative system and the marginalization of socially and economically backward people. create a real threat and challenge to good governance.
Social media has been quite basic in addressing the challenges of good governance and is one of those instruments through which all the key components of good governance seem quite achievable. For example, through social media, we may upload photos, videos or statements of discrepancies in administration and government machinery, ranging from lack of service delivery, problems in schools, roads, hospitals to elections. Today, anything and everything can be saved, downloaded and watched by millions of people within minutes of being downloaded. This has, in fact, enhanced public participation in governance; and even the “not-so-responsible bureaucracy” often finds itself more responsible than the political executive. And this resulted in “minimum government, maximum governance”.
*Grievance redress and good governance
A complaints redress mechanism is an integral part of the machinery of government/administration. For an administration to be responsive, accountable and friendly, it must have a strong and effective grievance mechanism. According to the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, the grievance mechanism is the “gauge to measure” the “effectiveness and efficiency” of a government as it provides important “feedback on the functioning of the administration”. The online grievance mechanism has seen an increase during the Covid-19 pandemic situation, either through designated government portals or social media platforms, as services such as ration, special clearances, health facilities and curfew passes were made available while reviewing citizens’ online appeals. Major political leaders such as chief ministers and ministers of different states have called on their counterparts in other states to take care of migrant workers in their regions using social media.
But the problem is that social media users are often clouded with uncertainty about the response of the relevant authority and how long it will take to respond or react. For this reason, although there is a right to make a statement, there is no legitimate expectation of receiving a response on social media.
To incentivize the government to respond to appeals made via social media, it is important to include the response to social media grievances as a key indicator of the Good Governance Index (GGI). The CGI 2021 framework covered ten sectors and 58 indicators. The sectors of GGI 2020-21 are 1) Agriculture and related sectors, 2) Trade and industries, 3) Human resource development, 4) Public health, 5.) Infrastructure and public services, 6) Economic governance, 7) Well- Social Being and Development, 8) Judicial and Public Security, 9) Environment and 10) Citizen Centered Governance. The GGI 2020-21 classifies States and UTs into four categories, (i) Other States – Group A; (ii) Other States – Group B; (iii) Northeastern and Hill States; and (iv) Union Territories. According to the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, in the Good Governance Index, GGI 2021 Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa topped the composite ranking covering all 10 sectors. Odisha was leading in human resource development and economic governance.
As a country, we have tremendous potential to effectively embrace the practice of grievance redress through the use of social media. India has the highest mobile data consumption rate with 12 GB per user per month. In March 2022, we have more than 1.2 billion mobile connections, more than 700 million Internet users and 600 million smartphones, which propel by 25 million per quarter. Over the past 10 years, India has seen immense improvement in its digital connectivity. Infrastructure development in the telecom sector has made fiber-based internet connectivity and 5G mobile network possible, which will further enhance digital connectivity. Smartphones with fast internet have proliferated the use of social media.
According to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the number of users on various social media platforms is:
• WhatsApp users: 53 crore
• YouTube users: 44.8 crore
• Facebook users: 41 crore
• Instagram users: 21 crore
• Twitter users: 1.75 crore
The grievance mechanism is one of the best ways for government/government agencies to communicate with the public and social media can be the preferred platform for effective public engagement and grievance redress. In addition, the government will be able to keep citizens informed about the politics and issues that matter most to them. The government can use social media to hold regular town halls, educate citizens on security issues, and engage community groups. This will definitely increase good governance as citizens’ grievances can be dealt with at the earliest.
To conclude, social media can be effectively made into an important part of the grievance mechanism and can genuinely improve good governance, but for this we need the necessary commitment from government to resolve and address the issues raised by social media. In addition, social media users should ensure they adhere to a few key points when using social media to improve grievance handling:
• Clarity on the grievance they want the government to address.
• Identifying the right social media handle: Identify the right social media handle they should approach for their relevant issue.
• Tag the authority: Tag the correct authorities, who will be able to contact the citizen.
• Be sure to comment on the relevant issue: Comment on relevant issues about your grievance and make relevant and relevant comments. This will make the conversation productive and help lead it to its logical conclusion.
• Proper Etiquette: Be polite, discreet and respectful to all, and do not make personal comments for or against individuals or agencies. Also, professional discussions should not be politicized.
• Compliance: Comply with relevant rules and regulations. Do not infringe on the intellectual property rights or copyrights of others.
• Confidentiality: Do not reveal personal information about other people and do not publish your own private and personal information, unless you want it to be made public for use by others.
(The author is a Central Government Additional Permanent Advocate, Central Administrative Tribunal, Cuttack Bench, and Emeritus Adjunct Professor of Law and Media Studies, School of Mass Communication, KIIT University. This writing is an excerpt of the speech prepared for delivery at a workshop organized by the Association of Twitter Activists, Puri on 11.04.2022. Opinions are personal)