Social media and city management

September 18, 2022

Approaches to administration vary; so does the use of social media

Social media and city management


 growing volume of research has indicated that, powered by the social media, citizens are fast becoming the primary source of information. City managers use this information and the vehicle to reach out to public in their bid to manage the cities effectively. Of course, sometimes they do not like what they see on social media.

Recently, a warning was issued from the official social media account of Islamabad deputy commissioner that those found making vulgar or unethical comments will be tracked down by relevant law enforcement agencies and may be prosecuted.

This warning was released after the comment section on social media was frequently found flooded by obscene and inappropriate language.

Sharafat Ali, an author and a lawyer engaged in drafting laws, told The News on Sunday, “You cannot hamper free speech. People have different ways to express themselves. I am all for free speech. That is one thing.”

He added that trolling was quite another thing. He said he agreed that trolling should not be encouraged.

For some reason, social media accounts of Rawalpindi division officers do not attract so many users. The city managers in Sargodha and Multan divisions have a similar experience.

Ali says social media is often regarded as a platform for public accountability. The city administrators in Rawalpindi etc have a different approach to governance and do not engage with the citizens the way the Islamabad administration tries to do. They mostly operate in the Raj mould where bureaucrats were not answerable to the public. Even notionally they reported to East India Company and then the British government and its proxies. Many deputy commissioners and other administrative service officers still live in lavish villas.

Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat, the former Islamabad deputy commissioner, meanwhile, has 332,000 followers on Twitter, perhaps the largest number for a bureaucrat in Pakistan.

He says individual city managers get to meet no more than two percent of the people they serve in person. “It is partly on account of timing constraints. When we have free time and are available, people cannot reach us. When people come calling, we are busy in the field. Deputy commissioners and senior police officers regularly hold open courts but still get to see a limited number of people,” Shafqaat says.

He says that this is the reason city managers all over the world are using social media to stay in touch with the people they serve.

In London, New York and Berlin, city managers interact with their publics on social media and use this interaction to solve their problems.

“During my time as Islamabad deputy commissioner, we commissioned a study that found that there are 250,000 to 300,000 active social media users in Islamabad.

These users, he said, keep pointing out civic problems in their areas. “Look at the recent floods. People drowning or living in submerged areas have been uploading their complaints. Relief workers have been reaching them on the basis of the information provided on social media,” he says.

The IGP says Islamabad Police have been doing their best within the limited resources they command. “You cannot simply compare present and past crime data. There are many variables to look at. The situation is always changing. Crime is a developing story,” he says.

“I do not say that city management should depend entirely on social media. But it should use it to improve its performance,” he says.

Chief Commissioner Capt Muhammad Usman Younas (retired), who has about 28,000 followers on Twitter, is also responsive on social media. He regularly uploads the city administration activities. Recently, the administration has been engaged in beautification of the city. Like Lahore, flower plants are being planted on Islamabad streets and public roads.

His predecessor, Amer Ahmed Ali, however, was not an active social media user. However, social media users in Islamabad could not miss him in the posts made by various ambassadors and other diplomats.

He was not on social media but he launched important development projects. Some of these – like the signal-free Srinagar Highway and Faisal Avenue – have been completed. When he took charge, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) was running a deficit. Now it has a surplus budget. He was a ‘traditional’ officer, focusing on making policies and executing those. He used to say that the city administration had to work for all areas, regardless of the way its performance was reported on social media. He also used to say that in trying to be ultra active on social media, city managers risked being reactive and vulnerable to manipulation.

IGP Dr Nasir Khan is perhaps the most qualified officer in town currently. Dr Khan, an urban security and communication specialist, says there is no escape from use of technology in controlling crime in big cities.

Visitors to his office will often find him working on his laptop. Most police officers, however, seldom use any devices other than mobile phones and wireless.

His predecessor, Amir Zulfiqar had the distinction that during his term, the federal capital was declared the safest city in Pakistan.

Dr Khan believes that street crime can only be curbed through installation of surveillance cameras.

Asked about the image of Islamabad police being tarnished on social media, he says, “We are an organisation, bound by policy and parameters. We go by the book. If someone maligns us for political reasons, we make a reply in accordance with law.”

“For the first time, the police are presenting facts on their social media platform to counter a smear campaign,” Dr Khan tells TNS.

He says Islamabad Police have been doing their best within the limited resources they command. “You cannot simply compare present and past crime data. There are many variables to look at. The situation is always changing. Crime is a developing story,” he says.

Pointing to the list of Islamabad IGs in his office, he says, “I am an addition on this chart. This is my city and this is my country. No one can stop me from doing my job.”

He says in some countries images of police officers are prominent on social and mainstream media. But media practitioners in Islamabad do not do so.

There is no vibrant local media in Islamabad. In the presence of federal ministers and other politicians, it is hard for city managers to get TV coverage to communicate with three million people of Islamabad. If a road is blocked, social media is the fastest way for the administration to communicate with the public.

Shafqaat says that government officers are being educated on the use of social media for city management but there is a need to do more on this front.

The writer teaches development support communication at the International Islamic University Islamabad. He tweets @HassanShehzadZand can be reached at Hassan.shehzad

Social media and city management