Now, govt cyber cell to counter ‘negative’ news

Every time a negative narrative surfaces, a possible counter would be initiated — through press releases, briefings or press conferences, depending on the intensity or standing of the post,” said sources.

Written by Amitav Ranjan | New Delhi | Updated: February 23, 2016 6:43 am

THE GOVERNMENT plans to set up a special media cell to track content online, and counter news and comments that it decides are negative or provocative.

Last month, the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) proposed that a National Media Analytics Centre (NMAC) be created to keep monitor and analyse round-the-clock blogs, web portals of TV channels and newspapers, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, among others.

“The government will keep a watch on the narrative in all such threads. Every time a negative narrative surfaces, a possible counter would be initiated — through press releases, briefings or press conferences, depending on the intensity or standing of the post,” said sources.

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Last August, the government had directed all ministries to set up quick response teams — comprising senior ministry officials, nodal officers from the Press Information Bureau and independent experts — to defend its case in the face of negative news.

Sources said that the NMAC proposal is based on tracking software designed by Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, an Assistant Professor at Delhi-based Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology.

The software will generate relevant tags to highlight “belligerent” comments or social media chats, they added.
At a deeper level, the software would comb posts and comments to classify them into negative, neutral and positive categories while highlighting relevant text, sources said. It will also show up if the negative posting was factually correct or “an intentional canard”, they said.

“The software would also help recall the past pattern of the writer to check the number of times he took a negative or positive stand, his background, and preferences of websites and areas of interest to judge whether they were aimed at fomenting trouble or radicalisation,” said sources.

They said the objective is to come up with “instant counters” on social media to plug resentment triggered by news items so that personal opinions do not snowball into public protests and threaten law and order.

The feedback on covert or overt posts would be passed on to security agencies or higher authorities for possible intervention, they said.

The NMAC proposal suggests an inter-ministerial committee of officials from NSCS and the Home, I&B and External Affairs ministries for analysis, coordination, information dissemination and feedback on public perception and national security.

The NMAC would be the third observation post for the NDA government after the New Media Wing, the online eyes and ears providing daily reports on the world of social media, and the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) that monitor 600-plus channels round the clock.

As reported by The Indian Express on August 29, the 200 content auditors at EMMC sends hourly reports and text messages of news breaking on any channel to top bureaucrats including the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, the National Security Advisor and the Cabinet Secretary.

The New Media Wing trawls websites, including micro blogs, as well as traffic relating to news breaks on the social media sites to pick up government relevant trends. It then undertakes a “sentiment analysis” to gauge public opinion.

The proposal for NMAC was sent to PIB director-general Frank Noronha by Deputy National Security Advisor Arvind Gupta for setting it up at the National Media Centre, said sources. However, they added, a four-member committee formed to examine the proposal has opposed locating it at NMAC due to “lack of space”.

When contacted, Noronha declined to comment on the contours of the NMAC. Gupta and Kumaraguru did not respond to an emailed questionnaire or answer phone calls seeking comment.