Dealing with dysfunction

Ministers urged to interact with people via social media


Okaz/Saudi Gazette

MANY Saudi ministers and top officials have showed courage to interact with the public on social media while others continued to hide behind their office desks guarded by personal staff. Most of them use Twitter to communicate with people, except the ministers of justice, municipal and rural affairs and Islamic affairs who do not have Twitter accounts.

A common feature of social media accounts belonging to ministers is that they do not follow the comments and opinions voiced by citizens except senior government officials. This has raised an important question: How will the ministers know the opinion of the street on various issues of national interest.

Social critic Yasser Al-Bahijan said all social media accounts belonging to ministers are managed by media centers of their respective ministries. “These accounts are for official purposes and the ministers rarely interact with the public,” he told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

All the ministries have established accounts for customer service, but most of them have failed to draw a substantial number of followers. The ministers often take over the accounts for customer care except that of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

Hani Al-Ghafeeli, a social media expert, said most activists wanted to interact with ministers instead of the customer care department. He cited the experience of US President Donald Trump, who has more followers on Twitter than the White House.

He said social media was successful in breaking the barrier and helping ministers to reach out to the public. “The appearance of ministers on Twitter and other social media platforms have increased their popularity and made them celebrities,” he pointed out.

Among the Saudi Cabinet ministers, Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah has the largest following on Twitter (2.96 million). Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir comes next with 2 million followers, which is half a million more than that of his ministry.

Khaled Abalkhail, spokesman for the Labor and Social Development Ministry, has 136,000 more followers than the minister while his ministry has 1.46 million followers.

Eissa Al-Mustanir, a professor in media and communications at King Khalid University, said Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir received a record number of followers on Twitter because of his charisma.

“Health Minister Al-Rabiah has succeeded in projecting his ministry’s achievements through Twitter. As minister of commerce and investment, he was successful in publishing his daily activities and the ministry’s achievements through the social media platform,” he said.

Al-Mustanir added that media activists used Twitter to criticize ministers and highlight the failures of their ministries.

The Education Ministry’s account is followed by more than 2.55 million people while that of Minister Ahmed Al-Issa has less than a million followers. Commerce and Industry Minister Majed Al-Qassabi holds the sixth position among ministers in terms of Twitter followers (209,000) while his ministry has a following of more than 1.6 million.

Housing Minister Majed Al-Hoqail has 112,000 followers on Twitter. He got the lowest number of followers due to the presence of different Twitter accounts for his ministry’s various services. Culture and Information Minister Awad Al-Awad has won a following 59,000 in three months of his appointment while his ministry’s Twitter account has a following of 362,000.

Communications and Information Technology Minister Abdullah Al-Sawaha has a following of 49,000 while Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan has 37,000 followers. Minister of Environment, Water and Electricity is followed by 34,000, which is lower than his ministry’s 108,000 followers.

Okaz/Saudi Gazette has noticed dramatic changes in the number of followers of ministers within a 48-hour period. Some ministers have failed to make use of social media to mobilize popular support. Housing Minister Al-Hoqail and Education Minister Al-Issa have been receiving flaks from people.

Khaled Al-Khidr, a social media expert, stressed that all the ministers should have social media accounts to interact with the public and improve their services.

“The ministries and their heads should recognize the shift from traditional communication means to social media networks and should make use of the new media in their favor,” he said, while urging the ministers to interact more with the public to know their requirements and problems.

Digital media specialist Sultan Al-Shibani considers refusal by ministers and officials to interact with the public through social media as a palpable failure. “This shows that these ministers are unaware of the increasing role of social media in modern life,” he added.

Abjad Al-Noufal, however, does not consider a minister’s interaction with the public through the new media as a must. “I believe it is a matter of personal choice. Every ministry has its own accounts to deal with the public and answer their queries.”

However, Al-Noufal said interaction would help the ministers understand the public’s impression of their ministries’ activities and services and the areas where improvement was needed.