Welcome the Era of Ministerial Tweets
It is by no means gimmickry any more to suggest that a good measure of public opinion can be had through perusal of debates on social media platforms. Granted, access to such media is yet confined to a section of people in India — but the size of that section would be such that it would make little sense to ignore it. Thus, Narendra Modi’s directive to his ministers to open Twitter accounts and Facebook pages as a means of enhancing public outreach is a smart move, enhancing the new Prime Minister’s claims of a new era of transparency and governance. Social media had already arrived, indeed, in some cases even seemed to be setting the agenda on a number of issues, and this is official acknowledgement of that fact and an attempt to harness the positives that come with it. There are many people quite willing to offer their opinions, for whatever they are worth, given the chance. But you also need to be prepared for serious flak: things can get pretty nasty online. That, actually brings up an important issue relating to such new media: where to draw the line of the law on offensive speech and freedom of expression. It seems plain ridiculous to go after people — as there have been many cases in India lately — for something said on Twitter or Facebook. It would be inappropriate for the state to behave as if the world were about to end and slap a draconian reading of the law on someone for a comment or two. Barring something directly implicated in promoting violence, which itself can be a matter of interpretation, what sense does it make to hound people for expressing their opinions on media hailed as a democratising force? Instead, ignoring the useless and sifting out the valuable, such as suggestions on governance as envisaged by Modi, would be a better alternative.