Indian government wants a company that would be able to analyse social media posts so that nationalism can be boosted on the medium and nullification any anti-nationalist post by India’s adversaries can be possible.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said it wants a company to offer analytical software and a team of at least 20 professionals to “power a real time New Media Command Room.” These demands formed a part of a very lengthy tender that was recently floated online by the ministry.
The tender said the company should be able to monitor Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Internet forums and even emails in order to analyse sentiments, identify “fake news,” distribute information on behalf of the government and add news and social media posts with a “positive slant for India.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is always very active on the social media. He has also suggested that his ministries and cabinet ministers also be active on the social media, tweeting new policies and interacting with citizens. And most follow Modi’s suggestions. But in the tender, the government has clearly indicated that now it needs more powerful social media tools so as to be able to shape a confident narrative about India. The aim of the government is to encourage nationalism among people in the lead up to state and national elections.
Nikita Sud, an associate professor of international development at Oxford University said: “essentially, the hub will be a mass surveillance tool.” She added “nationalism seems to be equated with agreement with the government of the day, or even with the party in power. There are grave implications here for India’s democracy, and for the fundamental rights to free speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian constitution.”
In the prime minister’s office, a spokesperson did not immediately respond to a call or text for comments. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting also showed no response.
The company that the government is seeking needs to be able to track social media trends, topics and Twitter hashtags that can be applied comprehensively to government activities, according to the tender.
However, the government is also seeking abilities to break down and monitor individual social media accounts, creation of historical archives of the conversations and aid in the creation of a positive image about India.
The tender further suggests that “predictive modeling” and “data mining” in order to “make predictions about the future or unknown events” that would include analysis of the impact of such headlines in international publications such as the New York Times, the Economist and Time magazine, should be a capability of the social media tool.
The document reads “would be the global public perception due to such headlines and breaking news, how could the public perception be molded in positive manner for the country, how could nationalistic feelings be inculcated in the masses.” It continues: “how could the media blitzkrieg of India’s adversaries be predicted and replied/neutralized, how could the social media and internet news/discussions be given a positive slant for India.”
Saksham Khosla, a research analyst at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s India office said “this tender contains a worrying emphasis on isolating and countering individual views.” She added “Will it collect other personal data? The line between surveillance and responsiveness is blurry, and without rigorous privacy safeguards and oversight, the potential for misuse and overreach is high.”
The tender is dated 25April and it accepted bids until May 17.
(Adapted from TheHindustanTimes.com)