Bureaucracy’s digital challenge

Synopsis: If civil servants don’t use social media appropriately, their role as independent advisers stands threatened.

Introduction

The article highlights the good use of social media in bureaucracy to make it more effective and public-friendly.

Why using social media by civil servants is considered wrong?

Indian Bureaucracy is characterized by hierarchy, formal relationships and standard procedures, while social media is identified by openness, transparency and flexibility. Some fear that Indian Bureaucracy would be compromised in that process.

Creates selective accountability: In India, the role of social media in bureaucracy has taken a different direction. Social media is getting used by civil servants for self-promotion through their selective posts. Using this, civil servants create a narrative of their performance.

There is a wrong notion getting created in the public consciousness that social media is the way to access civil servants and make them accountable. But we should remember that this creates only selective accountability and cannot substitute institutional accountability.

Why is social media to be used by civil servants?

People: It helps to make people aware of government policies and programmes. It also creates a positive outlook towards the bureaucracy, which is still considered opaque and inaccessible.

Bureaucracy: It helps bureaucrats to engage with the public, serves them transparently while being politically neutral. Anonymity is the hallmark of bureaucracy, including in India. But in contemporary governance where the public is the centre and values are more important than facts, bureaucracy cannot afford to remain completely anonymous.

The use of social media is gradually getting institutionalized in many Westminster system-based countries. For Eg During the Brexit debate in the U.K., many civil servants shaped public debate through the use of social media even while remaining politically neutral. In India, civil servants haven’t reflected on this aspect of digital bureaucracy.

So, bureaucrats should use social media to improve public policies, not for self-promotion. This will set a good precedent for digital bureaucracy.

Source: This post is based on the article “Bureaucracy’s digital challenge” published in The Hindu on 29th September 2021.

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