Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Will Social Media Improve Transparency and Enhance Quality of Life in the Defence Services?
Ponderings of a Veteran


Last week, while surfing the internet, I observed that two rather unsavoury incidents pertaining to the army had gone viral on Twitter.

The first incident was a public spat between two Generals regarding seating arrangements in a cinema hall.

The second was a contretemps in AWWA (Army Wives Welfare Association).

Since these embarrassing incidents had gone viral on the social media, the mainstream media was forced to take notice and report these as news items in the electronic and print media, on TV and in newspapers, and thereby these unpleasant issues got wide publicity.

In the past, such issues would have been settled internally within the cocooned environment of military cantonments, and the outside world would never have come to know of these occurrences.

The advent of the social media (especially Twitter and Facebook) has changed everything.

Now, with the increasing proliferation and popularity of the social media, it is not possible to “hush up” matters, and organizations, including the military, have no choice but to be more transparent and engage with the social media.


Social Media is a relatively recent phenomenon, but it has proliferated so rapidly and extensively that almost everyone is using social media tools like Facebook, Twitter etc

Owing to its instant and widespread reach, Social Media has overwhelmed the so-called “mainstream media” comprising print and electronic media.

As far as news reporting is concerned, Twitter is most impressive – Twitter is highly effective in disseminating news almost instantaneously.

Owing to Twitter’s instantaneous world-wide reach, the high speed and vast synergy of Twitter, if anyone puts a news item or news link on twitter, it can go viral within seconds by “re-tweeting” and become “trending news”.

Twitter focuses on user collaboration and facilitates sharing of user-generated content by the means of “re-tweeting”.

Twitter users can add their own comments, content, pictures, videos and internet links and thereby add value and credibility by interpretation and analysis.

Twitter has enabled everyone to become a “citizen journalist”.

You can write a news report on your blog and post the link on Twitter, or tweet a news item you have read on the internet with a clickable link, or you can instantaneously tweet a news-picture you have clicked or write a caption or a news item.

Twitter has trending topics, which can define and prioritize news and establish news trends for the Main Stream Media (MSM) to follow.

Today, because of its sheer volume and high-speed throughput of information, Twitter has the power to drive the Main Stream Media.

Owing to its instantaneous speed and tremendous reach, now-a-days the phenomenon of “Breaking News” first explodes on Twitter much before TV News Channels on the electronic media.

Twitter leads, other media follows.

Twitter has also brought about a sense of transparency in news reporting.

Twitter has thwarted attempts by the Mainstream Media (MSM) to suppress, “censor”, ignore, downplay, whitewash, manipulate or misreport news.

In many cases, efforts to present news in a biased, distorted or skewed manner have been exposed owing to the first-hand reporting of news on Twitter by citizens.

Main Stream Media (MSM) cannot afford to ignore Twitter unless it wants to be isolated and lose credibility.

The huge presence of Journalists, Electronic and Print Media Organizations on Twitter bears testimony to the relevance, importance and power of Twitter.

In addition to Twitter, Facebook is also very influential in information proliferation and shaping of public opinion.


In the past, as far as “peacetime soldiering” was concerned, the military remained cocooned in cantonments.

Maybe, cantonments are a relic of the Raj, where the military was expected to live a colonial social lifestyle in a world of its own, far away from the “natives” with whom the “sahibs” were not supposed to mingle.

This “cantonment culture” was prevalent mostly in the army which lived in its own insulated world of cantonment life totally cut off from the outside world.

In contrast, most of the navy was located in the heart of Mumbai (then called Bombay), and naval officers lived all over South Mumbai along with civilians – in fact, the navy wardroom (officers mess) was located in a building called “Vasant Sagar” in Churchgate off Marine Drive in a posh civilian locality.

That is why, in earlier days, there was a huge difference between the social life and cultures of the navy and army, but, in due course, the navy too started building its own secluded “cantonments” and adopting army style “cantonment culture”.

The military led a secluded cosseted life revolving around the facilities and amenities in the cantonment, and outsiders did not know what was going on inside.

Those days even the media treated the military like a “sacred cow” and did not interfere and nor did journalists try to pry into internal affairs of military cantonments.

If there were any issues, they were sorted out internally, away from the eyes of outside civilian world.

Thus, there was a sense of opaqueness about military matters.

It was not that scandals did not take place in the past, but since it was possible to brush things under the carpet, cover up or “hush up” embarrassing issues internally, the outside world was not aware of the goings on inside the military cantonments.

The advent of the social media (especially Twitter and Facebook) has changed everything.

Incidents in cantonments, which, in earlier times, would have remained internal issues, went viral on the social media which forced the mainstream media to take notice and report them extensively, and thereby these issues got wide publicity.


Social Media is a present day reality which cannot be ignored by the military.

In fact, it will not be beneficial for the armed forces to ignore the social media, especially Twitter.

In today’s information technology driven world, avoiding the social media may be counterproductive.

Whenever an issue pertaining to the military goes viral on the social media, if the military does not tell its side of the story on the social media, people start believing whatever is being reported on the social media (Twitter, Facebook etc) and the absence of authentic information leads to speculation and rumours.

In such situations, the military must tell its side of the story truthfully and it must do this with promptness and accuracy.

In order to achieve this, military public relations must have an active presence on the social media, especially on Twitter.

Like the MEA PRO is doing, the Defence PRO must be more visible and articulate on the social media (especially Twitter) in order to ensure balance, fairness, credibility and transparency of news, views and issues pertaining to the military.

You will be surprised, but there is a rather “antiquated” school of thought, that believes in antediluvian solutions like “banning” social media in the military.

While there is justification for reasonable restrictions on the use of social media by uniformed personnel, extreme steps like prohibiting use of social media may be highly unpopular, especially amongst youngsters for whom things like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp etc have become an inseparable part of their life.

(As it is, the military is facing a shortage of officers and such extreme steps like banning social media may discourage many youngsters from signing up)

Let us assume, hypothetically, that the military decides to prohibit uniformed officers and personnel from using the social media.

But can the military impose such “bans” on wives (and families) of military officers and personnel?

Military wives are civilians and are not subject to the restrictions under the army, navy or air force acts.

I mentioned earlier that Twitter has enabled everyone to become a “citizen journalist”.

Likewise, in the context of cantonments too, social media, especially Twitter, has enabled every military wife to be a “citizen journalist”.

So, suppose an incident or scandal happens in the social life of the cantonment (like the AWWA squabble mentioned above), just one tweet from a wife is enough to make it known to the whole world, and the “news” can even go viral by repeated re-tweeting.

Such is the power of the social media that it is not possible to “hush up” inconvenient matters, or “cover up” scams and scandals (which it was quite easy to do in earlier times).


I feel that it will be best for the military to actively engage with the social media and make its presence felt on Twitter and Facebook which will enable effective interactive communication and usher in a sense of transparency.

The Army does have a presence on Twitter ( @adgpi ) and Facebook ( and regularly posts interesting information and pictures about army events and informative tidbits from military history, but it seems to be “one way traffic” – they need to actively engage and interact with servicemen and civilian citizens in order effectively articulate and discuss pertinent various issues, and to build up a social network.

The Navy PRO had opened a Twitter Account ( @INSpokesperson ) last year, but now it seems to be defunct, and so seems the case with the Air Force Twitter Account ( @IAFIndia )

The Defence Services need to use the social media effectively to interact with the tech-savvy youth to exchange recruitment information and discuss various aspects about a career in the army navy and airforce. 

Effective “two way communication” between the defence services and the civilian youth may motivate many bright youngsters to take up a career in the armed forces.

I feel that various support organisations need to use the social media by active presence on Facebook and Twitter to effectively interact with their “Fauji customers” (serving, retired and families):

1. Defence Accounts and Pay Offices ( PCDA, CDA, Naval Pay Office etc )

2. Military Veteran and Ex-Servicemen Welfare Organisations ( ECHS, DESW MoD, DGR, DESA/NHQ etc)

3. Defence Facility Providers like Health Care (DGMS, Military Hospitals), Defence Canteen Services (CSD, INCS etc), Defence Housing Organisations (AWHO, AFNHB), Institutes and Clubs, Holiday Homes etc 

4. Military Social Networks, Forums and Interest Groups (eg Regimental/Branch, Military Hobby and Sports Groups etc)

5. Social and Family Welfare Organisations/NGOs like Army Wives Welfare Association (AWWA), Navy Wives Welfare Association (NWWA), Air Force Wives Welfare Association (AFWWA) to enable barrierless interaction, seamless communication and exchange of views within members of these welfare organisations.

The possibilities are endless.

The social media is easily accessible and available to all free of cost and affords enormous opportunities.

Now it is for the military to use its ingenuity to take full advantage of the social media in an innovative manner for maximum benefit of all stakeholders.

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