Shashi Tharoor. Sachin Tendulkar. The connection is not just the initials, but also VISA. Get it? 😀 So, anyway, Tharoor’s tweets (again) created a minor ‘controversy’ and I observed a few interesting tangential stories.
Tharoor’s boss commented that such issues ” should be sorted out within the four walls of the two ministries”. So there was a good debate online and offline on how, as an elected representative, his responsibility was to the public, and whether the government, like many private organisations, might have some sort of non-disclosure norms. Tharoor, while having to go by official policy, had a view on his own and was expressing it. It reminded me of communication policies in organisation and a post recently on gaping void titled “If your boss tells you ‘our brand must speak with one voice’, quit.” The point to note is that SM Krishna is not a stranger to Twitter, but his usage of it was as a platform during the elections. A bit like an organisation using social media as a broadcast platform with least strategic intent. Tharoor, on the other hand, uses it in a completely different manner, and uses it well, IMO.
I doubt that this is the last ‘Twitroversy’ that Tharoor will find himself in, because I sense his larger agenda in this – forcing transparency on a system which clearly lacks it. (Generalising) In some ways, the similarity (of the government’s functioning) with organisations is quite evident. So, you could say that Tharoor is a pioneer in India’s version of government 2.0. But the internet with rife with stories, usually with bad endings, of employees talking about their employer. Facebook and Twitter have contributed largely to this too. No, that’s not a warning of any sorts, I think this trend will only increase, and the endings will have to change. Employees would have contractual obligations, but as organisations move towards social business design, the nature of these also would have to change. In India, where the net is yet to achieve (mass) maturity, a member of the government working towards transparency in what can be called ‘THE system’ is bound to have an effect on culture. The other effect of transparency I am looking forward to is accountability. As Seth Godin says ‘Put a name to it’. I think accountability will have a huge role to play in Social Business Design, and the faster organisations adopt it, as opposed to seeing employees as army ants following a diktat, the better it will be for all concerned.
I also saw a debate on Times Now, which, to me, exposed the difference in the way bureaucrats and even old journalists see Twitter, as opposed to the users of the service, in this case represented ably by Prem Panicker. Someone commented on Twitter that the media creates these controversies around Tharoor because he has moved a layer between the government and public. I’d agree to a certain extent, because though India’s internet penetration is still in single digits, even media houses realise its the future. The media, print or television has seen itself as the ‘middle man’ and services like Twitter are just ripping away that fabric. Meanwhile, Vir Sanghvi (on Twitter) commented that “If Shashi Tharoor said same things to journos he would be hailed as frank. When he tweets he is called irresponsible” To me, this is another manifestation of the same sentiment.
Ironically, Tharoor, a few minutes before the controversy started had tweeted about the future of journalism – about the influence of stringers and bloggers, but the need for educated and knowledgeable editors as well. I read recently about the rise of TMZ, and the new form of reportage. The way I see it, along with transparency and accountability, there will be a variable trust factor in the reader’s mind for every source. The source might be an individual, a group, an organisation, a company, the trust factor and context will dictate the relationship. Even as individuals like Tharoor become ‘media’ in themselves thanks to (in this case) Twitter, newspapers and organisations will have to work out very quickly on how to adapt to this change in status quo.
until next time, mediators
PS. Shorter posts and an announcement – next week
PPS: True to style, Jyoti Basu virtually ‘died’ yesterday, on Twitter.