Would you agree if we say that the day wouldn’t be complete without that daily dose of social media? Some say that it has the power to change governments. Your likes, dislikes, your thinking patterns, your friends, what you eat and everything else about your life is chronicled in 1s and 0s thanks to social media.

The previous week, we were at the Water’s Edge to attend a workshop on social media. It was aimed at increasing awareness and enhance capacities of members of parliament, government leaders, policymakers, GCIOs and other officers from various agencies and ministries of the Government on how to utilize social media for development and governance. Social Media for Development and Governance, a five-day capacity building program was co-organized by the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) and the United Nations Asian and Pacific Training Centre for ICT for Development (UN-APCICT).

The first day was dedicated for Government Chief Information Officers. With Mr. Sameera Jayawardena a Project Manager – ICT HR Capacity Building, ICTA welcoming the participants and the resource persons, the workshop officially commenced. He invited Dr. Hyeun-Suk Rhee the Director, UN-APCICT to make the opening remarks. She spoke about the importance of social media and the work that APCICT does. Here, she mentioned about the Academy of ICT Essentials for Government Leaders Module 11, Social Media for Development. She also spoke about the WIFI (Women and ICT Frontier Initiative) program, an initiative of APCICT that aims to develop the capacity of women entrepreneurs in using ICT.

Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika
Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika

Next up was a special presentation by Mr. Muhunthan Canagey, CEO/MD, ICTA about the Engagement in a Digital Era. He started off by discussing how the time has changed in fact how PM Modi used social media for a Digital India.

“As much as it’s a great tool to be proactive, it’s a deadly tool if you are not active” – Muhunthan Canagey

He also mentioned that ICTA will be having the first inter-ministerial committee meeting soon and several ICT policies will be approved. Mr. Canagey said that initiatives of biometric programs of individuals and all other digital programs will be soon coming in with the backing of the Prime Minister who is much concerned on fast tracking such programs.olicies

“Social media is revolutionizing the way we think, way we work and the way we adopt. We need to understand these trends and as a government we should adopt as fast as possible.” – Muhunthan Canagey

Session 1

Overview of Social Media and Social Media & Society

Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika
Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika

It was Dr. Emmanuel Lallana, CEO – IdeaCorp., who started off the first session for the day. Well, he was the main resource person for the day; in other words, he joined for multiple sessions.

Dr. Lallana kicked off his session with the so-called incident of ‘Chamara’, which went viral during the past days; well even he knew about it.

“Today, you don’t have to be a billionaire to be a media producer. User generated content; it just needs a smartphone and an internet connection.” – Dr. Emmanuel Lallana

He spoke about how the read-only web has transformed to what the internet is today. Dr. Lallana gave an introduction to what social media is by talking about its evolution, facts and figures and its impacts towards a sustainable development and good governance. He defined SM as a platform for Sociality, Crowdsourcing, and Co-creation.

Social Media Landscape of Sri Lanka

Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika
Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika

The second talk under the first session was delivered by Mr. Rajit Hewagama, Director – Copacetic (Pvt) Ltd. He started off with numbers, a total of 20.36M people, 4.79M active internet users, and 2.8M active social media users. 27.4M mobile connections. Yes, it’s more than our total population and growing.

“It’s time to move from SM for listening to SM for governing” – Mr. Rajit Hewagama

He next took a look on who and which entities are using social media. Here he showed stats took from Social Bakers on the Facebook pages and Twitter handles of popular politicians in SL. Next he moved on to the hashtag scene; #PresPollSL and #GenElecSL.

Mr. Hewagama did a comparison on how government organizations of foreign countries are using SM to interact with society and the position where Sri Lankan agencies stand. The much recent incident #PowercutLK which created a considerable attraction in the SM sphere. Did the responsible authorities respond on the same platforms? Sadly no.

He concluded his talk with highlighting that there is a lot of room for growth and he suggested that citizens must be involved in the national development and participatory democracy.

Session 2

Social Media as a Development Tool and Social Media & Governance

Back on stage was Dr. Emmanuel Lallana, during this session he showed us how SM can be incorporated in the development process of the nation. He identified them as a rural development which mainly focused on the agricultural sector, Education by allowing learners to connect and interact, Public health and Disaster Response & management.

How could SM contribute in Governance? It can be used as a new information channel, a method to get feedback and consultation, a platform for citizen participation so that the officials could identify whether people need something or not and a way of enhancing the collaboration among government agencies.

Continuing the second half of the session it was Ms. Gabrielle Iglesias an ICT and Disaster Risk Management Expert at Asian Disaster Preparedness Center and her presentation was on the play of social media in disaster risk management.

“Social Media is a collection center and stage for information” – Ms. Gabrielle Iglesias

She took several examples and case studies on how people reacted during natural disasters and through the influence of SM, how people wanted to help. “Social media is a good way in getting people to feel like they want to help” Ms. Iglesias also mentioned how the government of Philippines use official hashtags for various disasters.

Wrapping things up she put down the usefulness of SM in emergencies on a scale and she stated that it has its own both pros and cons.

Session 3  

Social Media and Public Communications and Ethical & Responsible Use of Social Media

Dr. Emmanuel Lallana with his final session presented a case study how ISIS and the US Government used social media. He spoke how these terrorist groups use SM effectively on well-planned strategies to create fear among its enemies and win the admiration of other radical groups. Looking at how the US government handled the situation by dismantling websites and Twitter handles he mentioned that these sort of approaches are just temporary since it just take a matter of seconds to put up a new one.

“All stakeholders have a role to play in preventing the harmful use of SM and ensuring it’s safe and is a productive application” – Dr. Emmanuel Lallana

Finishing up he stated that it’s everyone’s responsibility and the right mix of government, corporate action, community response can create these right conditions.

“It is how you use the tool that makes the difference” – Dr. Emmanuel Lallana

Cyber Civility & Ethics in Social Media Age

Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika
From Left: Mr. Nalaka Gunawardena and Dr. Emmanuel Lallana
Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika

Mr. Nalaka Gunawardena a renowned ICT/Media Researcher and Columnist was our final resource person for the day. He took the audience through how the tech sphere has been changing in Sri Lanka. He spoke how everyone uses social media from government entities to NGOs, CSOs, private cooperates, politicians and celebrities.

He then took his talk to a burning misconception here in Sri Lanka, blaming social ills like suicides on social media. In his presentation, he quoted some articles from popular newspapers and cartoonists to show how media is irresponsibly creating a false picture in the society.

Next he moved onto the challenges that have been rising due to the increased use of social media. They included; Hate speech in the forms of racial and religious content mainly, Anonymity, Addiction to social media and finally identity theft.

He stated that it’s a time we need more Social Scientists studying these issues and said that state regulation of SM is not the answer.

“Don’t throw the social media baby out with the bathwater” – Mr. Nalaka Gunawardena

Panel Discussion   

It was the last segment for the day. The panelists were Dr. Emmanuel Lallana, Ms. Gabrielle Iglesias, and Mr. Nalaka Gunawardena. This was the time when the so silent audience started talking. Since the audience was officials representing major government departments and bodies, they discussed what problems they have internally and their plans on incorporating social media to the system.

From Left: Dr. Emmanuel Lallana, Ms. Gabrielle Iglesias and Mr. Nalaka Gunawardena Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika
From Left: Dr. Emmanuel Lallana, Ms. Gabrielle Iglesias, and Mr. Nalaka Gunawardena
Photo Courtesy: Oshadi Prabhashika

Conclusion

In our point of view, workshops of this nature is a must right now. There’s a lot of misconceptions and rejections; most probably due to the fact that social media happens to be a slightly new thing to the older community, to be precise the gen x group. After all this is the generation that holds the big seats and makes the important decisions in most situations.  The government is the face that the world sees as of a nation. Hopefully, initiatives of this kind would create awareness while debunking those misconceptions at least to a considerable level. Technology evolves at an extreme rate. If you don’t adopt, you’ll be dropped out.

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