Trick or Tweet? Can politicians have an online life?

January 3, 2010

I recently came across this article on the Washington Post.

GERMANY BOOK FAIRBeing a part of a generation that gradually, if with cautious unease, learnt to adjust to the Internet, I could not help but compare India’s policymakers with those of developed nations based on their level of acceptance of changing media.

Frankly, it is difficult to imagine our lawmakers in the same position as described in the article.

For years, when social networking meant visiting friends and family at Christmas and New Year, and Facebook was still a concept, representatives of our democracy would depend on traditional ways to reach out to their electorate.

Rallies would block traffic, fields would fill with squatting populace hanging on to their leaders’ words and newspapers would print carefully penned statements.

Then came the Internet boom and more and more politicians realized the utility of the 24×7 online audience and the tools at their hand to maximize their reach.

Ministries now have regularly updated websites and a team of media specialists put out updates on important issues in easily downloadable format.

So far so good.

The vast domain of social networking and its utilities, however, still remains untapped as our leaders approach it wearily.

This can be evident from the furore over Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor’s comments on Twitter and the subsequent flak he took for airing his personal views on visa regulation on the popular micro-blogging site.

Tharoor, a newcomer to India’s politics, is known for updating his Twitter account regularly with news and personal updates, a habit which seems to not have gone down very well with his more experienced colleagues.

If I were to compare the Indian polity’s mindset to social networking with that of the Republicans in America in the Washington Post article, it would be evident that there is a gaping chasm in opinion about the potential of Facebook and Twitter.

FILM-BUZZ/Adam Conner recommends a status message a day to Republican Peter Roskam on his Facebook page, a fact he says will appear “interesting and cool to his constituents.”

Tharoor’s Tweets received a mixed response. A section of followers appreciated and awaited his comments on issues varying from the Prime Minister’s speech to his head cold and suggested remedies for it.

A political section on the other hand responded with jaded cynicism on the futility of such newfangled trends and their longevity.

Veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi tweeted “If Shashi Tharoor said same things to journos he would be hailed as frank. When he tweets he is called irresponsible. ”

Tharoor has probably captured the obsessive curiosity of a section of Indians who have never before been able to directly connect to their elected leaders as intimately.

“Shashi Tharoor talks directly to half a million people on Twitter. Few newspapers or TV channels have the same reach,” Sanghvi said on his Twitter page.

It remains to be seen whether the tech-savvy minister’s move pays dividends in popularity or backfires within his party which is clearly uncomfortable with the concept of taking personal views on policy matters to social networking.

India has begun dominating the technology market in the last few decades, being home to some of the world’s best programmers. Its leaders, especially of the younger generation, are fast adjusting to changing technology and exploiting it to their benefit.

Most have Facebook pages, carry the latest BlackBerrys and iPhones, and some send out smses to voters during elections.

Does the slamming of Tharoor expose a contradiction in using technology solely for votes garnering and imposing gags when regular feedback and follow-up is expected of the elected leaders? Is a serving politician right to air his personal opinion on policy matters on social networking sites?

Do you feel our senior leaders need to make adjustments to stay relevant in a fast shrinking world?


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I agree with the writer. We need to grow up. At least the politicians need to grow up and change faster with the changing times. Poor Tharoor holds his personal views and no one should bother as long as it its not reflected in his work.

Posted by Curiously | Report as abusive

I think what makes the senior(read older generation) of leaders of political parties uncomfortable with Twitter and Facebook is the loss of control that comes with a direct access to the public, where their views are not sanitised and where the medium cannot be manipulated to meet their ends, at least not yet. Once they figure out how to do that, like the politicians on Capitol Hill seem to be doing on the Washington Post article you linked to, social networking media will be embraced more heartily.

Posted by kriskingle | Report as abusive

I think the politicians are now understanding the importance of these social network to express their views. It is totally a different situation to speak your thoughts. We should be ready for upcoming changes in the paradigm of networking.

Posted by rudrakr19 | Report as abusive

Yes and No. Yes, in the 21st century, there is no excuse for senior leaders to be un-tech-savvy (if there is such a word). Being partial to Tharoor in the first place I would tend to applaud all his actions as super-cool, but at the same time, I strongly believe that a person on a social networking site should be extremely careful of what he/she says. Its something like violation of your company’s privacy code. If you want to talk about your personal life, go ahead, but please don’t post your comments on a teammate’s presentation on the web. Which in this case, may be a Parliament bill.

Posted by Suvasree | Report as abusive