Social Media Communication Hubs in India

In January this year, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry planned to set up a hub to monitor social media activities, trending news in districts and gather feedback on the Centres flagship schemes.

The finance committee has sanctioned Rs 17 crore for this fiscal year for setting up 707 SMC hubs, hiring personnel, development of software and other infrastructure related expenses.

Around 20 social media analytics executives per hub will provide ‘reports on sentiment, reach, details relating to trending topics and hashtags and compile six reports per day’ to begin with.

As part of the project, new software is being developed for the hubs that will enable two-way communication and help disseminate information.

The platform is expected to use predictive analytics in a bid to study how public perception (can) be moulded in a positive manner for the country, how could nationalistic feelings be inculcated in the masses, how can the perception management of India be improved at the world.

The tendering process for software development for the hubs was initiated by Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited, a public sector enterprise under the Ministry.

A technology platform is needed to collect digital media chatter from all core social media platforms as well as digital platforms like news, blogs and forums. The platform is expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights as well as comprehensive workflows to initiate engagement across digital channels. The platform maybe used to disseminate content and hence should support publishing features.

The platform will eventually power a realtime New Media Command Room and operate in Indian languages like Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi and Tamil, along with English.

The tool should act as the guiding tool for the ministry to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on various schemes run by the government. It has to give location-based insights, measure the effectiveness of hashtag campaigns, needs micro-level categorisation for mentions around topics, which, in turn, should help in efficient decision making by identifying the key problem areas.

The Supreme Court issued notice to the centre over its decision to establish a social media communication hub under the ministry of information and broadcasting for monitoring activities on social media.

A petition in the Supreme Court was filed, that alleged that the proposal for a “social media communication hub” by the Centre is a “brazen attempt at mass surveillance.”

According to petitioner, Popular social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, would be tracked to identify the “buzz creators” and social media influencers.

The proposed Social Media Communication Hub seeks to create a technology architecture that merges mass surveillance with a capacity for disinformation.

The petition said the aim of the hub is to create a technology platform “to collect digital media chatter from all core Social Media Platforms as well as digital platforms.”

The hub would operate on a software having the “ability to trawl social media and World Wide Web for data mining. Trawling should be comprehensive and should cover all the major websites and social media handles.

The proposal to create a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ has been withdrawn, the Centre told the Supreme Court recently.

The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.

Incidentally, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which runs the Aadhaar scheme has recently taken a decision to use a similar technological base at district level to appoint agents to monitor the social media and gather response/feedback on the Aadhaar scheme and its effectiveness. The UIDAI intends the new agency to serve as a “Social Listening Tool” to monitor conversations on social media platforms.