How 140 characters aka Twitter has become so integral to Indian Govt…

This blog is over 10 years and 6000 posts old. There have been so many posts that the blogger himself is surprised to read through some old posts. But there are some which have stuck like this one where Bruno Frey poses a Tullock challenges for Facebook:

Bruno Frey of University of Zurich has this superb paper giving two Gordon Tullock challenges to mainstream thinking.

Tullock believed – What is important, will be manipulated by the government. He was always sceptical of innovations which believed that they could undermine government’s role.

In this regard, Frey throws two Tullock challenges to the recent innovations/new ideas in public choice theory:

I call “ Tullock Challenges” open issues identified by the kind of thinking Gordon represents. I choose two innovations – as far as I am aware – Gordon did not deal with because they are quite recent. The first innovation is one of method: it has become possible to measure subjective well-being, or happiness. It is one of the noteworthy results of modern happiness research to demonstrate that such measurements make sense and are reliable. The possibility to measure happiness has had important policy consequences; countries like France or the United Kingdom now engage in policies designed to maximize happiness.

The second innovation I deal with are the digital social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, to some extent Google, and other internet platforms. The policy consequences may be that revolutions from belowappear to be possible now. The examples of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as well as other Arabic countries and beyond, may point in this direction.

Challenge is both these are likely to manipulated by government for its own benefit:

The challenge is to understand what consequences these two innovations have for society – and what political measures can be used to make them beneficial for the people. While the two innovations are on a quite different level, there is nevertheless a  common theme. I will argue that both innovations lead to strong incentives by the governments to influence the policy consequences. Indeed, I propose that “ What is important, will be manipulated by the government ”. Thus, I claim that governments will manipulate the happiness indicators and the  digital social networks in their favour. This is a generalization of the well-known result from Social Choice Theory that all preference aggregations can be manipulated.

Never undermine the government. One thinks of politicians as stupid but they are perhaps the smartest folks around. We find it difficult to sell a good product and here they manage to convince so many to elect them. Not an easy job at all.

The Indian govt elected in 2014 is different in one big way – use of social networks particularly Twitter to connect to the people. It is amazing to read particularly stories of Ministries of Railways and Foreign Affairs respond to people via Twitter. There was this article on the team behind this in Railways and surely there must be a team for Foreign Ministry as well.

So this article in a very interesting way sums up how govt is using the 140 characters to help and spread its messages. Coming to the Tullock challenge, the govt has indeed figured the usage of this technology much much better than most of us mere mortals including the tech ones:

Twitter hashtag #SaalEkShuruaatAnek marked the first anniversary of the Modi government, and #TransformingIndia is marking its second. In the journey between these two hashtags, some efforts have been made to ‘transform’ governance through Twitter by Ministers such as Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman and Suresh Prabhu. This is even as many other Ministers use it to announce new programmes and highlight the achievements of the government.

In a crisis situation abroad, the first thing a Twitter-savvy person does is tag Swaraj to an SOS call and seek her help. The list ranges from Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra to commoners. 

With more than 5.14 million followers, Swaraj responds almost immediately to those in distress, and consoles their near and dear ones. To make the process easier, the Ministry of External Affairs has 129 Twitter accounts for India’s missions and posts abroad. The Ministry has separate Twitter accounts for issues related to passports also.

Another active Twitter user, Minister of State for Commerce and Industries Nirmala Sitharaman has introduced a hashtag-led mechanism for governance in her Ministry.  The hashtag #mociseva was introduced last month to answer queries on various departments and organisations related to her Ministry, including initiative like ‘Start-Up India’ and ‘Make in India’. Last week, Sitharaman tweeted that #mociseva completed a month with a clearance rate of 98 per cent.

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu recently stated that the use of Twitter is the largest outreach programme by any organisation to reach people in real-time in a complex structure like Indian Railways that handles 27 million passengers a day. In the past one year, he has become an active Twitter user. The total number of tweets from his account has crossed 11,700. Surprisingly, it was only around 100 in May last year.

Other Ministers, including Piyush Goyal, Jayant Sinha, Dharmendra Pradhan, and Ravi Shankar Prasad, use Twitter to the maximum to highlight the performance of their Ministries and the government.

Twitter is also being actively used to promote campaigns and platforms such as ‘Start-Up India’, ‘Swachh Bharat’, ‘Make In India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Give It Up’, ‘Grameen Vidyitikaran’ and ‘Skill India’, among others. A majority of these campaigns made their entry on Twitter in the government’s second year.

In fact, the Twitter account of ‘Start-Up India’ campaign set up in December 2015 has more than 31,000 followers. ‘Make In India’ campaign came out with a Twitter account during the first year of the government in September 2014. More than 1.1 million follow it.  From a mere 140-character tool a decade ago, Twitter has transformed into a rich media with photos, and videos now. Most of the hashtags used by the Modi government are either part of a campaign or denote the campaign or activity itself.

Nice bit. Some of this is positive like helping people on railways.

This is something that would both surprise and hopefully please likes of Prof Tullock..


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