On 28 September 2015, during a townhall meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer, at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dispensed advice to political leaders across the world,“Social media se bhagne se kuch hone wala nahi hai”—there is nothing to be gained by running away from social media.“Today, because of social media, governments are being stopped from committing mistakes,” he continued, “They are given a chance to fix mistakes.” While the prime minister’s commitment to social media remains indubitable, a public interest litigation has revealed that his enthusiasm for such platforms could prove to be a mistake that his government may soon be forced to fix.
At present, of the 52 ministries under the Indian government, at least 24 have a Facebook page, and 20, an account on Twitter. These include the ministries of external affairs, finance, railways, human resource development, and information and broadcasting. The Prime Minister’s office (PMO) operates its own Facebook and Twitter accounts, with close to 9 million and 8 million subscribers respectively. Both accounts bear Modi’s formidable gaze as their profile pictures, and both post photographs from the prime minister’s numerous public appearances along with regular updates that extol the various schemes introduced by his government. Given the manner in which social media has carved its space in mainstream public discourse, these accounts are often the subject of news and debate, serious or otherwise.
In June 2012—two years before the Bharatiya Janta Party came to power—KN Govindacharya, the former general secretary of the party, filed a petition with the Delhi High Court. Writ petition number 3672, which is still pending in the high court, attempted to investigate, among other things, the use of social media by the Indian government and the organisations that come under its purview. It questioned in particular, the nature of the agreements between social networking services and the government.