Social media could help reform system and society, but who cares!

The era of industrialization had left a deep impression on human lives but the advent of social media has had an even greater impact on the masses.

According to Sensis Social Media Report 2020, eight out of every 10 people in Australia regularly use social media. And more than 40 percent of all large businesses use social media for their brand communications and advertising purposes. For example, Brisbane City Council in Australia saved lives and businesses in 2010-11 through its social media platforms when floods appeared, but, we can’t do the same in 2022.

The global social media market reportedly grew from $159.68 billion in 2021 to 221.29 billion dollars in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate of 38.6 percent. Similarly, the number of social media users globally grew from 4.2 billion in January 2021 to 4.62 billion in January 2022. This accounts for a 10.1 percent growth of global social media usage. It is sanguine that internet penetration in Pakistan stood at 36.5 percent of the total population, i.e., 82.90 million internet users with 71.70 million active social media users.

The use of social media is increasing rapidly in our country as well and this should be a wake-up call for government institutions. Billions of rupees can be saved if the government dexterously uses social media platforms other than traditional methods of advertising. The government may release an advertisement on social media and provide an environment for interaction with the citizens. Whatever questions people may have in their minds should be responded to there. LESCO started holding facebook kutcheries (open courts) when the corona pandemic broke out.

People use social media, not only to advertise their businesses but also to showcase their creativity and get news. Besides it, people also use it for entertainment and political purposes. Imran Khan’s PTI took the lead in using social media platforms to propagate their political views in Pakistan. Twitter was extensively used to inform, guide and mobilize disgruntled youth for agitations in the infamous Arab Spring. PTI is following suit.

All over the world, social media has become an aspiring industry more than traditional media tools. The mobile phone has become an earning hand for those who think ahead of others and also know to benefit from their creative skills.

In the beginning, attention was paid to this and the nascent Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) was established after Shehbaz Sharif came to power in 1997. The PITB was responsible for the establishment of paperless good governance, easing business and promoting e-commerce. Meanwhile, the National Information Technology Board had warned government departments not to use WhatsApp-like apps for official purposes to avoid a data breach. However, it’s a common practice that Whatsapp has been used since then for sending official documents. The Inspector General of Police Punjab has also recently issued a WhatsApp number to lodge complaints by the people. However, the official social media platforms have failed to redress public complaints and ensure public-centric good governance.

Due to this, not only corruption, inefficiency and malpractices are also rampant in government departments. The bribery market is kept hot by keeping the public oblivious. More or less, all the service providers should update people on their social media accounts so that it becomes easy for the customers to access the specified service provider to resolve their problems. The police, revenue, WASA, health, district administration and even courts can update their websites with some necessary guidance but to no avail. This often leads to maladministration and is also a violation of the public right to information. This colonial legacy should be done away with now.

In this regard, the chief secretary Punjab should assign the task to the PITB, then he should also review how far the department has been able to resolve issues. The PITB should also force all other service provider departments to do the same. There should be a mechanism for giving weight to the client’s opinion about the department’s efficiency. It should be used while determining the performance of an official and the opinion of the public should also be given value.

Many of our neighboring countries, including India, have made significant progress in the IT sector. This has led society towards betterment.

When there was a discussion with an Information Technology expert, Mr H Ibrahim, in this regard, he said it can bring self-reliance, good governance, social change and poverty alleviation.

He said that a large part of our population consists of women and confined to their homes. They can also be included in the race of formation technology so that they can also play their role and increase family income. In this regard, PITB has to extend its network to the village level so that people are not only informed but also educated on how to use their mobile phones to become useful citizens. He said that ride-sharing companies like inDrive and Uber/Careem have created software and they are earning money without owning a single vehicle. Our IT giants may have to hire experts who could guide people on how to grow, develop and prosper, both individually, and collectively.

Referring to Kejriwal, a former bureaucrat of the Aam Awam Party, he said how he has refined a corrupt and conservative society on modern lines. He has surprised the whole world in many ways. A good number of services are being provided to the people at their doorsteps. Why is it not possible to do this in our country, he questioned. Our institutions are working for the welfare of their bosses only and people are the least concern. We have officers who aim only to please their political masters. Their duties do not involve solving people’s problems because this has nothing to do with their promotion. A good number of officers get to grade 22 without having a single notable achievement to their credit in the entire service.

We have seen officers who fail to do anything during their service; but after retirement, these parasites run their businesses successfully. Take the example of Amjad Saqib, who founded the Akhuwat which is considered a successful NGO. But his services were never exploited in the public sector. Shoaib Sultan, the founder of the Agha Khan Rural Support Program, was also a former civil servant who earned laurels worldwide.

If the government wants to, it can directly communicate with its citizens through social media and its effects can be more than press conferences, television or radio advertisements.

It is the job of such institutions as PITB to focus on the new generation who is more tech-savvy. The board may force all the departments, also a right to information requisite, to utilize the public relations officers to update social media accounts to facilitate the citizens. Unfortunately, ours has rapidly become a consumer society after the dawn of social media. A businessman has taken advantage of it, but in terms of services, our institutions have not benefited enough.

It is also the job of our institutions to inform consumers that cyber-bullying can also occur on social media and how to shun it.

Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to former US President Barack Obama, had once said that anything that breaks down barriers between the public and politicians is a good thing. It may be added here that social media companies are now investing in audio content, live stream shopping, the creator economy and more. Social media has become a source of inspiration, entertainment, and news. Interestingly, it has also become one of the most effective digital marketing tools of the recent past, with more companies embracing the power of social media than ever before.

Only Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has understood and utilised the social media platforms in absence of coverage on the traditional media. Other parties and top babus are hiding their heads in the sand to face the emerging realities. We need to wake up soon or India would soon force us to eat grass.

“Seize the moment. A man was never intended to become an oyster.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Javed Iqbal is a special correspondent covering the Punjab government with a particular focus on bureaucracy. He has unearthed a number of mega scams while working with leading media houses. He tweets @javedjahangiri and can be reached at javediqbal344@gmail.com.

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