What is the relationship between social media and civil servants? What are the advantages of civil servants using social media? What are its disadvantages? What are the reasons for the limitation of the freedom of speech of civil servants? Read further to know more.
Indian bureaucracy today, is transitioning from desk to digital which has emerged as a challenge.
This transition encompasses not only the move to e-office and e-governance but also the organisational and bureaucratic response to digital environments, particularly the usage of social media.
The emphasis has mostly been on the former, leaving the latter largely neglected.
Social media and civil servants
There are two schools of thought about civil servants’ usage of social media. While many people, including former civil officials, support civil servants utilising social media in their official capacity, others believe that anonymity, a defining aspect of Indian bureaucracy, is jeopardised. In fact, bureaucracy is incompatible with social media as an organisational model.
Bureaucracy is defined by hierarchy, formal relationships, and established procedures, whereas social media is defined by openness, transparency, and flexibility.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to free speech and expression, as granted to all citizens under the first section of Article 19, includes the right to go online. But, when it comes to the right to free speech and expression for civil officials, the question of whether a civil servant is entitled to do so arises.
Let us discuss more the positives and negatives of civil servants using social media.
Government workers have become more available to the general public, and public service delivery difficulties have been rectified through the use of social media.
- Positive view: Social media has also established a favourable outlook on an institution that was once perceived as opaque and inaccessible.
- Improved Awareness: People are more aware of government policies and programmes because to social media.
- Chance to Influence Public Discourse: It gives bureaucrats the opportunity to affect public debate and engage with the public while remaining politically neutral.
- The usage of social media helps to reduce bureaucratic blind obedience at a time when politicians tend to receive the advice they want to hear from bureaucrats.
- Aids civil servants in communicating with the public. Whether you concentrate your efforts on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, or another platform entirely, social media will always be a reliable location to keep the general public informed and updated on key problems, as well as engage with an audience on a deeper level.
The usage of social media platforms by civil servants possesses some negatives too.
- Anonymity has long been a feature of Westminster bureaucracies, including those in India.
- The norm that ministers respond to Parliament and the public for government decisions without naming the public officials who provided advice or carried out the administrative action is known as public service anonymity.
- Staying anonymous is unproductive in a society where public governance has become the norm.
- In public policymaking, values are becoming more important than facts. And, inside public policy circles, both beliefs and facts are being altered as a result of fake news and systematic manipulation.
- As a result, the bureaucracy, which is supposed to be a repository of facts and the embodiment of public principles, should not be expected to govern privately.
- The usage of social media is progressively becoming institutionalised in many Westminster-based countries.During the Brexit debate in the United Kingdom, many officials used social media to affect public debate while remaining politically neutral.
- Civil servants in India have not considered this facet of digital bureaucracy.
- Anonymity and obscurity have already been weakened by the Right to Information Act of 2005, but they remain major aspects.
- The role of social media in bureaucracy has shifted in India. Civil servants are using social media to promote themselves.
- Civil servants create a narrative of their performance through selective posts and promotion of these posts by their social media admirers, which is justified in the name of accessibility and accountability.
- There is a widespread misconception that social media is the best tool to reach out to federal workers and hold them accountable.
The suspension of some federal officials for remarks or criticism of the government on social media platforms highlights the contentious topic of civil servants’ freedom of speech.
Reasons for limitations
The government of India is formed by a majority of seats in the parliamentary system. In practice, it is possible that one government policy is advantageous to one group or society while discriminatory to another. At these times, if a civil servant comes out against the government, it may undermine the administration’s and society’s unity. Those with freedom of speech and expression are able to participate in public activities.
A civil servant’s constitutional obligation is to put the government’s programmes and schemes into action. As a result, if civil officials go against government plans, who will carry them out?
MPs and MLAs are elected by the universal adult franchise. Civil servants, on the other hand, are chosen through examinations. As a result, in a democracy like India, the decisions made by the government are of the utmost importance since they represent the will of the people.
A fundamental criticism of the government is not considered sedition unless the government feels it is intended to destroy public trust in the government in such a way that people cease to obey it.
Example of the positive use of social media by Civil Servants in India
Prashant Nair, a 2007 UPSC pass-out IAS officer in India who is currently working as Collector in Kozhikode understands the power of social media and how to elicit immense enthusiasm from the people themselves. Prashant has millions of Facebook followers and is rightfully referred to as a social media celebrity. The actor has obviously demonstrated his dedication to his ‘karmbhoomi’ Kozhikode.
Among his many honours, the biryani episode is noteworthy. He asked the inhabitants of Koyilandy in the district to assist clear a 14-acre pond covered with water hyacinth and slush on his Facebook page. He promised them a plate of Kozhikode’s famous Malabar biriyani in exchange. In response to his call, a large number of volunteers gathered to clean up the 14-acre Pisharikavu pond. Prashant took to Facebook to thank them all.
- Government officials should use social media to better public policies. Their status as impartial advisers is jeopardised if they do not use social media responsibly.
- Although social media has increased accessibility and accountability, it is crucial to recognise that civil employees have an edge in sharing information and responding to people who seek it.
- It is not a formal structure in which accessibility and responsibility are predicated on the consistency of treatment.
- Accountability via social media is not an alternative to institutional and citizen-centric accountability.
- It is, in fact, immoral to use social media during business hours explain it by pointing out that some people who have travelled significant distances are waiting outside the office.
- It is past time to not only use social media to bring facts to light, but also to showcase successes. This is part of a bigger strategy to fight the negativity that appears to be ubiquitous.
- #NexusofGood is a movement in that direction, with the goal of identifying, understanding, appreciating, replicating, and scaling good work done by civil workers and society as a whole.
- The goal is to provide an alternative narrative to the negativity that has taken over social media and other forms of communication. Many people’s thoughts and behaviours are being influenced by such negativity.
Article Written By: Atheena Fathima Riyas