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Social Media Communication Hub: An Analysis

Context:

Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd. has extended last date for tenders for supply of software for Social Media Communication Hub

Social Media Communication Hub:

  • The Social Media Communication Hub is a proposed project which seeks to monitor social media platforms and analyse the data to provide feedback to the government.
  • The initiative is being implemented by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

What it seeks to do?

  • The social media communication hub seeks to collect, compile and analyse news trending in districts across India.
  • The project would help the government gather information on the progress of its flagship welfare schemes
  • The information would help in formulating the policies, schemes and eliminate any flaws in their implementation at the ground level
  • The project would also help in analyzing the impact of social media campaigns conducted on various govt. schemes and would help in strengthening such campaigns
  • According to media reports, the project would help to prevent the spread of rumours or fake news which could lead to adverse situations.

Salient features:

The project envisages the following:

  1. A social media analytical tool
  2. A private data centre.
  3. Preparation of analytics reports
  4. Pre-and post establishment support (human resource)
  5. Predictive Analysis
  6. A knowledge management system
  • The Social Media Analytical Tool would monitor and analyze social media channels (face book, twitter, Instagram etc), local editions of news papers, cable channels, FM Radio stations, email and influential media handles.
  • The tool is expected to generate reports as per the requirements of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  • The tool is also expected to carry out a sentiment analysis. The social media conversations would be classified into positive, negative and neutral (as considered by the IB Ministry).The information would help government to propagate positive opinions and neutralize the negative ones
  • The tool should act as a search engine and be able to search various hash-tags, keywords across social media platforms
  • The tool is also expected to create and publish content on various social media platforms
  • The project will recruit a team of social media analytics executives. They will be entrusted with the task of generating reports and handling of social media analytical tool
  • A predictive analysis of potential headlines and breaking news in various channels and newspapers across the globe would be conducted. The government wants to be able to influence global public perception due to such headlines and breaking news

Major issues:

  1. Profiling and Mass Surveillance:
  • According to critics, the hub will create detailed profiles of the people by collecting intimate, personal details from social media accounts and emails.
  • Further, critics argue that the project is a tool of mass surveillance of the government
  1. Privacy concerns:
  • Analysing and disseminating personal data posted on social media, emails is a violation of the Right to Privacy. According to critics of the Social Media Hub, data posted on social media cannot be analysed further by third parties without consent of the concerned person as it violates the right to privacy.
Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) vs. Union of India Judgement, 2017

  • In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court acknowledged the right to privacy as a fundamental right.
  • It upheld that privacy is a constitutionally protected right which emerges from the guarantee of life and personal liberty in Article 21
  • The Court upheld the individual’s right to control dissemination of his personal information
  1. Freedom of Speech:
  • The plan to monitor social media and emails of individuals would threaten the Freedom of Speech and Expression. This is because the people who are under constant watch of the government would feel threatened and would not be able to speak freely.
  1. Propaganda:
  • Critics are of the opinion that the project would lead to dissemination of one-sided information and shape perception in the favour of the government. It is argued that the hub is a mere political tool to spread government propaganda and used for electoral purposes
  1. Concerns over Data Protection:
  • There are no safeguards in case of misuse of personal data. The present legal framework on data protection is inadequate.
  1. Legal basis of the Project: The proposed Hub falls under the “new Media Cell” which was set up under a notification in 2013 and not any law
PRISM- USA:

  • PRISM is a surveillance programme of the USA government
  • PRISM is a tool used by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect private electronic data belonging to users of major internet services like Gmail, Facebook etc.
  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is the legal backing to PRISM
  • Edward Snowden, an intelligence contractor had leaked PRISM data and criticised various surveillance programs and other snooping activities of the U.S. government. This had led to many international debates on mass surveillance and privacy of citizens

Way Forward

  • In the absence of strong ethical and legal safeguards against breach of privacy, the proposal to set up Social Media Communication Hubs is highly controversial. There is no assurance that the agencies will follow basic principles of transparency and ethical standards while dealing with personal data.
  • In India, personal information is exposed to serious risks from state and non-state actors. There have been various instances of Aadhaar data leak.
  • Further, the recent Cambridge Analytica Data Leak Scandal shows the political ramifications of data collected from social media without an informed consent. Therefore, it is pertinent to protect the user’s privacy and this necessitates a strong data protection law in India
  • There should be an informed analysis and subsequently, public comments should be sought before the implementation of the project.
  • Further, the project should be based on a parliamentary consensus rather than an executive resolution to provide a definite legal basis.
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