A cross connection
Tell us about the concept of your book.
Most of the earlier books on social media globally have only been written from a business angle or from single social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. There was none to deal with how they can contribute to governance and news organisations. I felt the need for such a book when the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) went on Twitter and Indian Institute of Mass Communication was asked to train officers of the Press Information Bureau and other information service officers in social media. As there was no one available, I tried to fill this void. The book is the result of the experiences I gathered therefrom. It covers the strengths of social media but also deals with potential dangers and the way businesses and governments are tackling these dangers through cyber guidelines. Some people feel that no law applies to social media. It is a misconception. In fact, all the laws that apply to other forms of communication apply to social media as well. While using social media, one has to be more careful than any other form of communication because of its ‘permanent’ nature.
Do you personally believe that social media has been a boon or a bane?
Social media platforms themselves are neither boon nor bane. It depends on the users. Like any other technology, it is neutral of values. People can use it for good or bad. We have seen examples of both. Social media increases global connectivity at unprecedented level. But we cannot forget how it can create problems too, like the case of panic among Northeastern students in parts of India, including the capital. Sometimes problems created by social media are magnified by traditional media. They multiply the effects by putting mischievous information on megaphones.
Has social media taken over mainstream journalism?
Historically no new medium has replaced pre-existing media. When radio came, the fear was it would replace newspapers. When television came it was supposed to replace radio and print both. When the Internet came, it was supposed to finish off the traditional media. The fright was so intense that the biggest traditional media company Time Warner allowed itself to be purchased by America On Line to become AOL Time Warner. However, all the pre-existing media survived the new technology and used it to improve their own performance. Social media is no different. Mainstream journalism is in fact using social media to increase efficiency and reach. Social media platforms have become additional sources of news for mainstream journalists.
In your book, how have you encompassed this huge field?
By emphasising on more important aspects and exploring certain social events on media platforms in greater detail. Recent US elections and London Olympics for example highlight the usefulness of social media. Others can learn from such examples.
What did you have in mind, with books on journalism in the background, while selecting the subject for this book?
When I joined media academics in 1985 leaving the profession, I discovered there were hardly any books suitable to Indian conditions. My first book was News Reporting and Editing, which had Indian context and examples. This void was present in other areas as well. This book happens to be my tenth on a media-related subject, as I continued to feel the need for India-specific books. Most of my earlier books have changed media education syllabi because I could provide teachers and students with relevant materials. I also continued to update myself with changing media environment. My being a journalist myself for quite sometime and keeping myself in touch with the industry has been a great help. This book is a product of that trend. All branches of media are adjusting to the emergence of social media. It will take time to update my other books on media as some are still in print. But this book will serve as an update.
What are the core areas you have highlighted in this book?
The book deals with evolution of social media and provides latest information on crucial online platforms. It also deals with how businesses are using these fora and how guidelines for the use of social media are emerging in important settings such as business corporations, governments, academic institutions and news organisations. The book should help policy-makers in business, governments and news organisations where laws to deal with the virtual imperative are yet to be drawn out. The book will also be useful to general users of social media as they can learn how to tackle these platforms more efficiently, without creating problems for the law enforcement or rivals.
Why do you think people are careless while using this form of communication?
There is a wide spread myth that social media is not covered by any law. This myth is responsible for carelessness. It is easy to express yourself on social media, but this does not mean that you can cross limits of decency, which many people do. It is easier to take legal action on expressions in social media as whatever you post stays on permanently and even if you delete a negative comment, it does not vanish forever and can be recovered to cause trouble.
Is there a particular policy for business ventures and
government in India for social media?
Guidelines put by ministry of information technology, government of India reproduced in the book are work-in-progress. Businesses in India are far behind compared to their international counterparts. So are Indian media and academia. This book can help policy-makers with ideas to formulate and improve social media policies in all kinds of outfits, whether public or private.