As the entire country is pinned down into submission by the unbreakable shackles of the current lockdown, people are forced to form an actual global village online. It has now become a rather mandatory duty for our government officials and bureaucrats to be highly active online to keep the information flow gushing through.
The Pakistani government has started to take serious notice and incorporate social media into day-to-day tasks. The proliferation of social media as the primary construct for information flow by the government has ramped up its importance for governments around the world. Ever since the genesis of this pandemic, government officials and ministers are starting to use social media to connect with their communities in new and open ways.
Crisis communication: Swift Information Dissemination
In a recent interview, President Dr Arif Alvi highlighted the problems associated with bandwidth in Pakistan. He emphasized on his efforts in creating a draft with the consultation of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), finance and technology ministries to decrease the tax rate on internet packages and simultaneously increasing bandwidth capacity so that people can access better quality internet. This improvisation will further help to speed up communication between the people and the government.
One such example of information flow during these days by the federal and provincial governments is the Pakistan Corona Statistics Dashboard which contains tabulated statistical updates from the federal and provincial governments which are otherwise not generated from a single source in the government.
Recently, PTA banned PUBG & TikTok and later reopened them. There is no representation of any social media platform in Pakistan except for Google and Facebook
The National IT Board run by Shabahat Ali Shah, a California returned Pakistani Tech Entrepreneur, built the dashboard. The fascinating thing about National IT Board is that a department which never existed or we can say was never noticed before Shabahat, has become the core of execution of all tech operations related to government.
NITB plans to make every ministry of Pakistan, paperless. I think that’s a good direction but would take another decade to implement. All applications launched by the federal government are supported and maintained by Shabahat’s department, which makes me realize how productive these people could be if they are given resources.
Dr Arif Alvi’s tweet, “It is not a political issue but a national one. The war hero’s role is yours through your weapons of social media & your phone messages. Don’t stop until we have won,” shows how active government officials were on social media to help tackle the lockdown and to disseminate information on priority through a medium which is accessible for all.
Government Officials more Accessible via Social Media
Use of social media by government officials and civil servants have helped the general public to engage by staying at their homes. Pakistani Civil Servant, DC Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat played a vital role in bringing civil servants on social media. Having the availability of civil servants and government officials at a few clicks helped the general public in engaging in direct dialogue, with a chance to get back instant feedback about the resolution of their complaints.
It was not easy to adapt to advanced technology. Still, the use of social media plays a significant rule to debunk fake news. It helps in spreading fact-based notices on various social media platforms so that people of the country have access to real information during this time of lockdown.
The nation looks up to the government not just for direction, but also for valuable information on how to cope up with the pandemic
Social media has changed the way governments interact with their people, making government and officials more transparent and accountable. Mostly, the officers using social media are using it just for the dissemination of information without engaging with the general public or responding to queries they have.
The problem which the government has failed to solve is non-compliance of social platforms with Pakistani policies. Recently, PTA banned PUBG & TikTok and later reopened them. There is no representation of any social media platform in Pakistan except for Google and Facebook.
Youtube has an office in Karachi, and they have also appointed point of contacts in Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistanis appointed by Facebook based in the Singapore office, are handling issues related to Facebook and Instagram in Pakistan.
Read more: Why is Pakistan rescinding TikTok ban?
Unlike Facebook & Google, the policy of Twitter has been stringent for Pakistan. I often feel that we, as a state, lack the direct liaison with such platforms, and this is the reason our accounts related to Kashmir and other narratives get suspended.
Unless you engage with your followers, you can never establish a sense of trust with your community. Responding to comments and questions from your community helps them connect with you. Along with staying up to date with information, it also assures them that the ‘Sarkari Babu’ is reachable, and they can send their problems directly to the officials.
With a plethora of people at home having affixed themselves with their screens, even one wrong tweet by an official could stir up pandemonium. The nation looks up to the government not just for direction, but also for valuable information on how to cope up with the pandemic. It’s especially important for the public sector to get information throughout the country in a calm, professional manner.
This means that the government should be taking extra efforts not to have overuse of exclamation points or tweets in all-caps. The government needs to hand-pick people or to train individuals who could stand in front and centre, to represent and lead the country through effective use of social media, conveying important messages in a controlled and reassuring way.
Fahad Malik is a Digital Media Specialist, and a Data Journalist who is using Digital Media to drive innovation in Pakistan’s news ecosystem. He has worked on projects of peacebuilding, mental health & digital skill development of women in Pakistan. He tweets at @Fahad4014. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.