I was invited to a meeting conducted by the Access to Information program a few weeks ago, where senior officials of the Health Ministry were present.
The meeting was about solving problems in hospitals raised by the general public on social media.
I honestly did not have any idea that the government had such a program.
A relative of a patient posted a photo on Facebook, describing that the hospital they were staying in was very dirty. The post came to the notice of the PMO’s SDG coordinator, who was conducting the meeting.
He then asked the civil sergeant and the hospital administrators about this, and held them accountable.
There were many similar incidents at the meeting, and the problems raised by the people were immediately solved. We were informed at the meeting that such programs were being regularly held, and progress is being monitored and whether the problems are being fixed.
We were told that there is a Facebook group of government officials, where they post about problems and remarks relating to various issues.
This is a network where top officials can easily communicate with the officials at the bottom and vice versa.
Social media is not unproductive
The program genuinely changed my line of thinking about the effective use of Facebook and other social networks. Until then, I used to be a firm believer that social media is largely an unproductive use of time.
In a country where access to public service on time is like for ice-water in hell, Facebook and other social media have become very good tools to solve many problems.
This mechanism can be effective, as citizens can directly contact the officials at the top and can lodge complaints. This can also be helpful for the officials who are at the top of the ladder, because they cannot always talk to the public directly, to check whether basic services are being provided or not.
With this high density of Facebook users, we can easily use this new technology for the betterment of society
However, with the help of Facebook and other social networks, they can easily get feedback from the people. There can be multiple Facebook groups for the masses for lodging complaints when they face any problems regarding public services. Officials can monitor those groups regularly, and take actions accordingly.
In this way, field-level officials would be very careful about providing public services and they will be held accountable.
Social media can also help curb corruption in the government offices. There can be Facebook groups dedicated for lodging complaints to about corruption we face in the government offices. The Anti-Corruption Commission can monitor the groups and can take action accordingly.
However, in case of corruption, there might be some problems as people can make false allegations due to personal conflict or grudges with any government officials.
This can be solved by moderating posts. There can be a mechanism of the Anti Corruption Commission that will not allow posts to be made public before primary investigation.
There had been many recent incidents of human rights violations where justice was served with the help of Facebook. The murder case of Rajon was the most significant case among them.
Justice was served in this case only because the video of the brutality was made public on Facebook.
There was also an uproar about how a freedom fighter in Kusthia was ruthlessly beaten. One should not doubt if victims would have ever gotten justice had these incidents not been made public on Facebook.
A recent report said Dhaka was ranked second in terms of having the most active Facebook users in the world. The report said that in the surveyed month, some 22 million people in Dhaka used the social network. With such high numbers of Facebook users, we can easily use this technology for the betterment of society.
What the Access to Information program is doing now can be replicated in other organisations. To make it happen, we need a framework and guidelines for the concerned officials.
Officials can also be trained about the social media. If we use this properly, Bangladesh can be a model of social media-drive innovation.
Mushfique Wadud is a journalist.