Virtual reality is the real reality. That was the crux of the India Today Conclave session, 'Social Media: Is it the voice of the people?' The panelists were Shailesh Rao, Vice President, International Operations, Twitter; Amr Hamzawy, Professor, Department of Political Science, Cairo University; Aziza Ahmed, Bangladesh-based online activist and Derek O'Brien, Member of Parliament, Trinamool Congress.
Rao opined that social media has given a human face to the internet, enabling people to transact and communicate with people and organisations. "The important thing is to give people the right to express themselves. The government should not have rules to squash the voice of the people. They have to make sure that all voices are heard."
Talking about the current regulatory structure around the internet in the country, Rao said, "Laws and policies are out of place. The government machinery does not move as fast as society. Voices should be heard in consistency with the laws of the country."
Professor Hamzawy said that social media provides a forum to voice concerns regarding the functioning of elected representatives. "It's a great platform to hold public officials accountable." He added that social media gives greater space to articulate ideological differences.
Online activist Ahmed spoke about how social media is playing a crucial role in shaping public opinion in Bangladesh.
O'Brien said that only 15-20 MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha use Twitter. But he felt this would change in the 20th Lok Sabha and 200 MPs would be using Twitter. "In the next 15-20 years only those political parties that have a presence across all social media platforms will thrive," he added.
Rao felt that engagement would help overcome the paranoia among governments across the world with respect to social media. "Any new technology is misunderstood and the first reaction to it is fear. It is important to initially engage with all the stakeholders involved to educate them on the benefits of the new medium."