A proposal to have hubs to monitor social media traffic and trends has been withdrawn; the Union government informed the Supreme Court on Friday.
It was alleged that though the stated aim of the project was to enable the government to understand the impact of social media campaigns on welfare schemes and improve the reach of such campaigns, the project had two aspects — “mass surveillance apparatus that aims at collecting and analysing huge volumes of data, and profiling people based on that” and “utilising this data to predict the mood of people online and issue responses, including those targeted at individuals or groups”
The social media analytical tool is expected to ‘listen’ to conversations on all major digital channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, as well as blogs and news channels. Therefore, it was contended that “such intrusive action on the part of the government, is not only without the authority of law but also infringes fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.” The move was also violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21.
The hub proposes to monitor social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even email) handles at the very local level in multiple languages to carry out “sentiment analysis”, track down the influence-making social media users and to categorize the conversations on social media into positive, negative and neutral sections.
It also aimed to track real-time the way social media receives news on the government’s schemes and announcements and also political events.
This information would help the government in formulating policies, schemes or rectify any flaws in their implementation at the ground level so that the ultimate beneficiary who is the common man is benefited and has a direct way to communicate any complaints regarding the same to the Government.
As per the proposal, the project is meant to strengthen the social media division and recruit social media managers to be deployed in 712 districts of the country. Each district will have one social media manager who will be entrusted with the tasks of keeping a close eye on the regional and local media, collecting data of regional media and of local events, providing content for social media and supporting media units at the regional level for social media publicity.
These social media managers will also monitor local editions of newspapers, local cable channels, local audio channels (FM) and key local social media handles for important local developments. They will make a daily analysis report incorporating local sentiments to be sent to the region head in the PIB as well as the media hub (command center).