Mr Sibal, you still don’t get social media

In August when Team Anna — the activist group led by Anna Hazare — ran a widespread and hugely successful social media campaign — the Indian government was caught napping. It failed to recognize the importance of social media, preferring to live in its illusory Luddite world.

Several months later, IT Minister Kapil Sibal shot off his mouth, virtually threatening censorship on Facebook, Google and the likes because they had allowed vociferous criticism of Congress Party leaders such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. The heavy hand, unsurprisingly, didn’t work. Sibal not only suffered a vicious backlash in the ‘virtual’ world but also invited rebuke from political leaders including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and virtually the entire global media led by The New York Times.

A couple of days ago, Sibal came off his high horse. Gone were the veiled threats of regulation in the absence of self-regulation. Instead, here he was trying to placate the executives of Facebook, Google and other global giants. But once again he came off poorly, betraying a complete lack of understanding of social media, or probably the broader Internet as well.

“This dialogue is about how the social media can empower the government,” Sibal told reporters, referring to the meeting with the Internet giants.

First off, social media is not about empowering the government. It’s about empowering the people. Get it, Mr Sibal?

Secondly, it is far from clear why Facebook, Google or any other company would want this dialogues. It is not their brief to empower government. If the Indian government wants to utilize, or exploit, social media to empower itself, it might want to consider hiring an expert who can advise them on how best to leverage the social media. You aren’t going to get it for free from Facebook and Google.