Incredible it may sound but National Knowledge Network (NKN) chairperson and advisor to the prime minister on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations (PIII) Sam Pitroda did hold a press conference on social networking site Twitter. In the name of 'democratisation of information' (He "created a hash-tag #DoI" formally), Pitroda answered queries on the social networking site for 45 minutes on September 25.
At a time when the government is ready to pounce on the social media and has tried all means to curb the voice of the masses, Pitroda’s conference came as what may be taken as a desperate attempt to woo the internet users. Union minister for information technology and communications Kapil Sibal has spoken time and again on the need to ‘limit’ the arena of the social networking sites. In such a scenario, holding a press conference on Twitter confirmed the government’s changed stance on the internet censorship.
Although the press conference invitation was circulated among the people, there was no clear information as to how the press conference will be conducted. Just 10 minutes prior to the press meet, Pitroda posted two videos explaining the term “democratisation of internet” and why he chose Twitter as the press conference venue apart from tidbits on need of broadband in rural parts of the country and worth of NKN.
Interestingly, head of the public policy with another social media site Facebook, Ankhi Das, had suggested similar measures about using social media platform at a conference held to take suggestions on better internet governance recently in New Delhi. Only a few weeks ago, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had also started a 'hangout', which is a live video chat tool on another social media platform Google+, to interact with people.
What looked like a precursor to the press meet were four tweets from Pitroda briefing about the conference formally “opening” the conversation.
But it seemed Sam Pitroda (or @pitrodasam) did not really understand Twitter before he took it up as a platform for a press conference. As press conferences across the world have been notorious for leaving people more confused than what they were when they first came, this one was no exception. Though it did manage to convey some information to the people and answer their questions.
Twitter is a massive ecosystem of information and you need to navigate between hashtags and RTs and ‘@’s to make any sense of what is happening on your Twitter screen. This is where Pitroda faltered big time. The hashtag was in place and even the answers were coming (although a tad slow for the twitterati who are used to a little more pace) but they did not have any RTs (short for retweets – where the Twitter quotes the Twitter post he is replying to) which made it difficult to understand the thread of conversation.
The least Pitroda could do was to simply hit the ‘reply’ button so that the questions with their answers were available in a conversation format. Hence, for most of the tweets, you were left groping for questions to try and make sense of what Pitroda was trying to say. So much for democratisation of information. The answers too came in spurts; may be because Pitroda had himself not realised the number of questions he would be asked. As one tweet said, “Obviously @pitrodasam had no idea about how overwhelming such hash tag meets can get. Very few responses. #DoI.” Some tweets complained about the lack of organization of the meet. “Hmm @pitrodasam's first 'twitter press conference' #DOI in progress. Wish he'd started w/ some guidelines or at least by setting the agenda,” said a tweet.
Multiple stake holders participated in the conference and asked questions about better information handling in the country. Answering questions on RTI and the linkage to PIII, Pitroda said, “It starts with RTI. To back it up, we need PII. And then provide access to real time info to ppl on demand”. On another query on the affordability of broadband, Pitroda tweeted, “Hopefully prices will go down as we get more broadband capacity and OFC to panchayats”.
But mostly people were concerned about the censorship on internet. On a tweet for a similar question Pitroda replied, “Certain sensitive information will have to be controlled by the government” which caused an uproar on his twitter page.
(@TanviNalin attended Pitroda's press conference along with @shivanginarayan)