Ghar Wapsi to China, govt trawls social media to get ‘advance warning’ on what people think

New Media Wing, the online eyes and ears of this government is not a creation of this government — it existed earlier, too.

Written by P Vaidyanathan Iyer | New Delhi | Updated: May 12, 2015 7:24 am
 Narendra Modi, Modi media wing, narendra modi social media wing, narendra modi online wing, modi social media wing, BJP social media wing, social media wing modi, NDA government, BJP government, india news, nation news Since July 1, 2014, over a month after Narendra Modi was sworn in as India’s 14th PM, the scope of New Media Wing work has expanded dramatically.

On September 20 last year, when Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting India, a little-known wing of the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry picked up a flood of “negative sentiments” online about Chinese incursions in the Ladakh region. Within hours, the External Affairs Ministry had moved to douse the fire with a conciliatory statement.

Five months later, officials at the Prime Minister’s Office received a report from the same wing saying “29 per cent of social media” had lined up against BJP leader Sadhvi Prachi’s statement that “ghar wapsi” won’t stop till 15 crore Indians reconvert to Hinduism. Within a week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appearing at a church function, couldn’t have been clearer when he said that everyone had the “inalienable right” to choose any religion.

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To officials in the I&B Ministry, these are just two of the many instances when inputs provided by its New Media Wing, the online eyes and ears of this government, have, at least, partially shaped such interventions at the highest level.

Indeed, as the NDA government completes one year, one of the most significant breaks from the past is the unprecedented scale of this monitoring — and how it’s ostensibly being used both as a 24×7 feedback mechanism and an “advance warning system”.

The New Media wing is not a creation of this government — it existed earlier, too – but since July 1, 2014, over a month after Modi was sworn in as India’s 14th PM, the scope of its work has expanded dramatically.

6000From that day until March 27, 2015, it has trawled around 40 million websites, 600-plus TV channels, and submitted 1,395 reports to the PMO. That works out to at least five reports a day, according to official data examined by The Indian Express.

Not surprising given that Modi himself is an enthusiastic Twitter user with 7,743 tweets and 12.2 million followers as of Monday. Besides, the PMOIndia handle, with 5.99 million followers, has posted 4,702 tweets.

The brief this New Media Wing has is simple: Alert the government to what people are thinking about it — from “ghar wapsi”, the Chinese incursion and the Delhi elections to the flap over HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s educational qualifications.

Sources said a typical day at this I&B wing begins at 8 am, when staffers quickly analyse terabytes of social media content to identify the top three “India-relevant issues” trending on various sites, including microblogs such as Twitter.

A hard copy of the “social media trending report” is then dispatched to the top bureaucrats, once in the morning and again at around 6 pm.

A senior I&B Ministry official, who did not wish to be named but is closely involved with this process, told The Indian Express: “Our job is to provide the social media analysis to the Cabinet Secretariat and the PMO. We stop at that. It is for them to act or not act upon it.”

And so, about 200 content auditors, employed on contract by Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd (BECIL), monitor those 600 channels round the clock in three shifts daily. At the same time, at Soochna Bhawan in New Delhi, around 20 professionals placed by Hyderabad-based Object One Information Systems Ltd — identified by BECIL through a tendering process – prepare the social media analytics.

Their reports take various forms (see box) and are submitted to the PM’s Principal Secretary and Additional Principal Secretary, the National Security Advisor, and at least six other top bureaucrats.

The I&B Ministry believes that social media trends reflect public sentiment and officials say its reports are noticed and acted upon by the “appropriate authority”. And while they insist that their job ends with preparing and sending these reports, some recipients of this information claim that for them, this is just the beginning.

Tomorrow: How ministries, IB tap New Media Wing inputs

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  1. A
    May 12, 2015 at 7:45 am
    Good to know that public opinion is being heard, one way or another.
    1. K
      May 12, 2015 at 10:35 pm
      The West Bengal state government which is maligned & defamed regularly day & night can follow this with some additional innovative ideas
      1. A
        Arjun Narayanan
        May 12, 2015 at 11:24 am
        Why the government? Even big corporates use analytical tools to understand consumer behaviour. In fact it is good that the government pays attention to the comments about its functioning on social media. What do they want them to do? Be another UPA doesn't care two hoots about public sentiments?
        1. D
          Dhurandar Bhatawdekar
          May 12, 2015 at 10:16 pm
          Good job Media on getting on the nerves of Prachi................................someone must suggest she should get a face job
        2. B
          May 12, 2015 at 2:04 pm
          Same by Kejri is bad and whatever Modi govt does is good?
          1. R
            Rangaesh Gadasalli
            May 12, 2015 at 8:53 am
            I think these measures are good as the govt shows that they are not a sleeping govt but are awake with regards to events and perceptions of the people. This will help good performance from officials and also will help in warning law makers about their stupid talks, stupid conduct and what not. As long as freedom of speech and expression are not curtailed and this freedom is not used to hurt any one, this is fine. during emergency days, we used to get express with many news items completely blacked out by the govt. The nation stood up with Ramnath Goenkaji and he won at the end. what if foreign powers misuse this licence to hurt our country? good vigilance and timely action should always be welcomed.
            1. P
              May 12, 2015 at 5:24 pm
              The monitoring system is sending wrong signals to the govt.The Gharwapsi had more proponents than opponents.This should have signalled the govt to permit more vigorous conversions.
              1. H
                May 12, 2015 at 10:34 am
                This is what any modern government does- in the USA, in UK, in China, in Russia. It is good to see that the Prime Minister's office is quick in its response to the thoughts of the people. This is what was lacking with the previous UPA government. The Congress Party has a lot to learn.
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