The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the Government of India has posted a tender online through BECIL (Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited), seeking a company that can provide analytical software and a team of at least 20 people to power a real-time new media command center, according to a report by Bloomberg. The tender outlines the requirements for a social media analytical tool that will help the government promote a positive image of India online. Also Read - No, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram will not stop working in India (Not right now)Also Read - Ola to offer free oxygen concentrators to the needy
The scope of work on the tender suggests that the company selected would have to provide a social media analytical tool that can monitor Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and many more, including complaint websites, general blogs, forums, and even email (something assumed to be private communication between the sender and receiver) that might be engaging in discussions on India. The platform would also need to monitor chatter, respond appropriately, handle crisis management, and offer data than can be used to gauge sentiment online. Also Read - Pakistan blocks Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps until 3 pm
While the tender and requirements sound innocent enough on the face of it, Bloomberg points out that there is scope for abuse of such a system. The government of the day can obviously use it to help shape a narrative that suits it, and encourage its version of nationalism.
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“Essentially, the hub will be a mass surveillance tool,” said Nikita Sud, an associate professor of international development at Oxford University, to Bloomberg. “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.”
The focus of any online tracking system would also be on the scourge of ‘fake news’ which has gained traction worldwide. The tender shows that India is the latest country to take this topic on, and there is also a general emphasis on monitoring and isolating viewpoints, that is being criticized for its potential to harm the fairness of a democratic electoral setup. Such a tool could be used to unfairly sway the public mindset towards a narrative set by the ruling government or party of the day, and stifle differing viewpoints.