Sri Lankan public policy and public service have never been known to be moving with new trends. They are associated with archaic rules and regulations and snail’s pace work ethics. Now these very same institutions are faced with adapting to times when download speeds determine everything. Imagine the situation of a public sector worker, used to pushing paper, getting signatures and waiting for the office helper to move the file ten feet to the next clerk now having to deal with emails, Whatsapp messages and PDF documents.
Some sections of Sri Lanka’s public sector are adapting to this and doing a good job at it as well. The Foreign Ministry has been one such agency that has paid concerted attention to working on social media. The spokesperson’s account is one of the most active of government workers and is constantly updated.
Despite the inherent risks of using social media being amplified by the political nature of the Sri Lankan foreign service, the Ministry, I have been told does in fact encourage its officers to be active on social media. It is also one of the few government agencies that have tried to introduce a social media usage guide for its officers.
Despite the inherent risks of using social media being amplified by the political nature of the Sri Lankan foreign service, the Ministry, I have been told does in fact encourage its officers to be active on social media
There are few government agencies that have been effective on social media like the Central Bank, the Office of Missing Persons, Secretariat for the Coordinating Reconciliation Process. But almost all of them are using these platforms to disseminate information. But social media is all about interaction.
Why government bodies are slow to get on to the interactive part is probably due to lack of training and an absence of policy on how to use social media. Also, the fact that this government seems to be woefully lacking convergence on any one message is not helping the cause.
But very soon this shift would have to be made as the public demands for quick action increases. The next generation of public officers would have to be trained on how to address public queries on Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter rather than wait to write letters or even emails.
All over the world social media innovations are revolutionizing the way age old tasks are being carried out. Take disaster response – now hashtags are being used to locate distress calls and provide information. Disaster repose units like the Red Cross, including the Sri Lanka Red Cross have been using social media to update information during disasters as well as gain information about damages and relief needs.
The local twitter handle @road.lk, better known for its crowd sourced traffic updates also used its network during floods last year to direct relief and rescue missions.
Now we come to the performance of one of key government departments on disasters management on social media – the Met Department. A close scrutiny of its twitter account showed that the last time it put out any weather updates on twitter was in April last year. Since then the account has continued to put out one tweet per week without fail.
Last week this was what it said “How many followers do you get weekly? 10 awesome new followers for me!” It is an automated ad on behalf of an app named Cowdfire which helps Twitter users to gain more followers.
Why govt. bodies are slow to get on to the interactive part is probably due to lack of training and an absence of policy on how to use social media. Also, the fact that athis government seems to be woefully lacking convergence on any one message is not helping the cause
Before we get into why the social media account of an agency like the Met is vital to the nation, the first question is whether it is ethical for a government agency to be a PR forum for a private app provider. The Met Department’s Facebook page does better, but only marginally. It puts up its daily updates on the page.
But the twitter account is a classic example of how government agencies still lack the understanding on the value of social media, net hygiene and simple net etiquette.
The author is the Asia-Pacific Coordinator for the DART Centre for Journalism and Trauma, a project of Columbia Journalism School