Disruption caused by technological breakthroughs is moving along an exponential curve. Each disruption giving rise to another, with time interval between successive technology enabled innovations shortening dramatically. Nowhere has this been truer than in the field of communications. Today, text verbal and visual interface is growing so rapidly that the entire paradigm of exchange of information has reached dizzying heights. We talk of a knowledge economy in a fully digital world! In this smouldering cauldron of multiple social media feeds, hitherto closed communities like the uniformed services are at a loss on how to handle leadership, command integrity and related issues. Since it is a new and developing situation, there are multiple views on how to handle this open Pandora’s Box.
One way is to follow the Chinese example and create a censored and restrictive regime of total cyber controls with the state being the judge, jury and executioner! In a noisy and fiercely free and democratic society such as India, such draconian restrictions would not only be unacceptable but also difficult to implement. What then of the armed forces? how do they deal with this hydra headed genie which has equal potential for enormous good but also can mutate into an uncomfortable and morale sapping evil.
The recent video and WhatsApp messages about the army have caused a furore and disquiet among a large body of people including veterans. This is a fair reaction from people who have high regards for the army and admire its discipline. What people fail to appreciate is that despite all reasonable efforts, in a million plus army there are bound to be true and imagined anomalies! Even if 0.1% of the rank and file is unhappy or disgruntled, fairly or unfairly, the number runs into thousands! Thus, if even a minuscule number of these people take to social media to air their perceived grievances or are proxies of some vested interests, the impact is manifold and much out of proportion, due to our acute sensitivity to such outbursts in the public domain.
However, the writing on the wall is apparent that more and more unhappy/angry people are going to use the social media to vent their ire or frustrations. In this scenario, banning the use of social media may not work entirely as the porosity of the available channels would find many proxy methods to get the message across and this time perhaps with more animosity and be received by a more fertile environ which feeds and thrives on being anti-establishment. A recent survey of WhatsApp groups shows that above 60 % of group members who post extensively, post negative or cynical messages! The principle of ‘ bad news is news‘ also unfortunately in some parts, applies to use of social media. We in the army thus have to work harder and more resolutely to put in place a more trusted, fair and responsive grievance redressal mechanism. We also need to educate and motivate troops and officers to use the social media objectively. Show them the good and bad it can do and build abhorrence for false media and trolling! Simultaneously, we should also build a tolerance threshold for the ‘New Normal’ that is use of social media both for good and a lot of evil. Banning won’t work!