March 2, 2015

Interesting trends in use of social media in India for mass communication

Talkathons are becoming fashionable with India's top ministers. Typically, a talkathon is a live question-answer session on a social media platform, such as Facebook or Google Hangouts.

This has caught fancy because unlike a press conference, you have an army of supporting staff writing answers, filtering questions, even directing the way the discussion goes. Then, you can choose not to answer a question and also easily evade cross-questioning. Your back-end boys can outsmart critiques, using technical tools and carpet bombing the area with favourable comments and questions. Though only a few hundred people have viewed your performance, you would claim that you are a modern, tech-savvy politician and a great social media hero. 

Some ten days back, India's Coal and Energy Minister Piyush Goyal used this tool, and last week it was the turn of Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu to answer questions after presenting the rail budget in parliament. True to what Indian politicians and bureaucrats are used to, Prabhu started the talkathon late by an hour. This Friday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley joined the  bandwagon by having a talkathon. Modereted by author Chetan Bhagat, the show saw the minister answer a range of questions posed by people on Twitter and YouTube on the union budget that he'd presented that day. By the way, he was on time! [You can see these talkathons on YouTube channel of I&B Ministry.]

A month back, we had discussed about Internet.org. Now, Facebook and Reliance Communications have teamed together to bring this app to India, starting with six states where Reliance provides internet services. This app offers free basic services ranging from health to travel, government information and sports. The information is available in local languages, besides Hindi and English.


India's spokesman on foreign affairs (MEA) used Facebook for a question-answer session. There were myriad questions, and it helped clear some cobwebs. Frankly, it was better than one expected from an official.