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The PM added you. Accept or decline?

Rituparna Chatterjee | http://MasalaBai

Updated: March 13, 2012, 12:38 AM IST
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The PM added you. Accept or decline?
So the Prime Minister's Office is on Facebook. And Twitter. And YouTube. Which makes India the world's largest social boredomocracy.

New Delhi: The delicious irony in the Prime Minister's YouTube channel that had audio trouble with its debut video was hard to miss. Twitter users targeted the gaffe with savage fury, making it the butt of jokes centred on Manmohan Singh's usual reserve.

Compared to the flamboyant Nicolas Sarkozy or the charismatic Barack Obama, the Indian PMO's Twitter account is fairly dull. Notwithstanding its virtuous intention, @PMOIndia has followed only 12 people and organisations, tweeted 177 times and is being followed by 64,072 (at the time of writing this post) people since its debut. On a good day, it dashes off as many as 15 tweets, which is not much if compared with the hugely popular accounts of state heads such as US President Barack Obama or Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The PM took to Twitter in January to press his political and economic agenda and connect to the site's 500 million users, a large chunk of whom are Indians. Since veteran television journalist Pankaj Pachauri took over as the communications adviser to the Prime Minister, the PMO has extended its presence to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to engage with citizens, particularly the youth that throng the social media sites, and communicate its policies.

The image of the ruling-United Progressive Alliance has taken a beating in the past two years through a series of scams and the Prime Minister's Office has undoubtedly lost face. The concerted social media push by Singh is being seen as a way to tap into the holding area of future voters.

While flippancy was not the objective, the tweet announcing the PMO's new channel 'pmofficeindia' on YouTube was in itself a terse and rather staid variation of a 140 characters message sent out by a state head. "PMOIndia is now also on YouTube at 'pmofficeindia'. We will be communicating more with you through videos. Stay tuned," the tweet said.

Obama jokes on Twitter, signs off as BO

Now compare this with Obama's Twitter debut in a "town hall" style meeting that lasted about an hour during which the president fielded questions posted by users and sent his first live tweet from a laptop in the White House East Room -- making what he called presidential history.

Obama's account is a busy feed to follow. The US President has close to 13 million followers, the aides who handle his account follow back over 600,000 people, routinely retweet interesting links and tweet games and challenges and sometimes even links to where voters can pick up their bumper stickers.

The subjects are varied and the tone is light. On March 12, at 8:43 PM @BarackObama tweeted: "Bonnie's 23-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. She wrote a letter everyone needs to read: http://OFA.BO/DQqKFL #ACA"

The tweet preceding that said "Got game? Take the Obama Bracket Challenge and see how your picks stack up against the President's: http://OFA.BO/MsdBn9 #BaracksBracket". Obama is one of Twitter's most followed, with a celebrity status similar to that of pop stars Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber, who have more than 20 million and 18 million followers respectively. Pop princess Britney Spears and talk show host Oprah Winfrey have fewer followers than Obama (over 11 million and nine million).

Medvedev keeps tweeting photos that captures his fancy from his official handle @MedvedevRussiaE. His photos of winter in Moscow and the view from his train window got retweeted more than 50 times. His tone is mostly friendly and he does not shy away from directly addressing heads of organisations on Twitter. "Hello @euHvR, on my way to Brussels. Looking forward to fruitful discussions with Russia's largest trading partner," he tweeted to Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council.

And that's how it's done!

A funny moment during Obama's first Twitter Town Hall came when Republican John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, managed to get in a question through a Twitter message of his own.

"After embarking on a record ... spending binge that left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?" read the moderator, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, citing Boehner's tweet. The tweet had a few typos.

"First of all, John obviously needs to work on his typing skills," Obama joked to laughter from a select audience present at the event at the White House.
It would do Manmohan Singh's office a world of good to emulate the style that sets apart leaders popular with social networkers. But age may not be on his side. Singh, who will turn 80 this year, is perceived as a toothless political veteran struggling to keep disparate partners in his multi-party government together. He lacks the connect that relatively young leaders such as Sarkozy or Obama have with their people.

Singh's YouTube channel

The first video uploaded was about Singh's speech at a conference related to UPA's flagship programme Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. It was followed by one about his visit to Mahatma Gandhi's memorial Raj Ghat on October 2 last year. The official videos are not only dull, they also severely lack the interactive quality that drives popular channels on YouTube. Currently, there are five videos in the channel set to instrumental music reminiscent of the Doordarshan era.

The White House channel on YouTube, apart from Obama's addresses, also has videos of him singing blues at a White House jam with Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy during a celebration of blues and its influence on modern pop culture. Obama has wooed crowds before, singing a line from Al Greens classic hit 'Lets Stay Together' at a Harlem fundraiser.

Singh on Facebook

Manmohan Singh's Facebook page is better maintained and the posts, comprising press releases, addresses and photos of events, are fairly regular. The page is 'Liked' by 258,000 people and it seems that his team has taken to the Facebook's Timeline feature easily. Important posts are pinned to the top and a larger image size used to highlight events.

But Twitter users, forever on the lookout for a good joke, have found a fresh target in the PMO.

The tweets are conservative, listless and somewhat reflective of the general state of governance in the country. The warning on its Twitter page, therefore, is quite apt - "Pages may be archived under IT Act". (With inputs from Reuters)

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First Published: March 13, 2012, 12:38 AM IST
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