New Delhi: The Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (I&B) has launched a fresh search for a private firm to handle its social media accounts, after dropping controversial provisions that would have required the company to trawl the web for sentiment analysis.
According to a request for proposal (RFP) issued by public sector undertaking Becil on 30 June, the firm chosen would largely be involved in the coverage of important events, content design, and other pre- and post-production roles. The agency will function under the ministry’s New Media Wing.
Multiple proposals floated earlier included clauses that said the firm would have to monitor social media to gauge users’ response to government endeavours, creating privacy concerns and leading to their withdrawal.
The proposals envisaged a “social media communications hub” under the New Media Wing, but the new RFP omits this altogether.
At the moment, it is not clear whether any other department of the government will be hiring the services of a private firm for a similar purpose in the future.
Speaking to ThePrint, government officials said there were at least three reasons why the clauses requiring social media monitoring may have been dropped, including that the government wants to avoid controversy, and that it has come to distrust the trends thrown up by sentiment analyses.
The new firm’s mandate
The services of the previous agency handling the government’s social media accounts were terminated by the then I&B Minister Smriti Irani in 2017.
According to the fresh RFP, the agency chosen will primarily be responsible for the coverage of government events such as visits of foreign delegations and summits, seminars, conferences, film festival and ministers’ speeches. This could include live telecasts or webcasts of an event.
The government’s communication arm, the Press Information Bureau (PIB), also live-streams certain events, but it only does so for functions that take place at the National Media Centre or Shastri Bhavan, where the weekly Cabinet briefings are usually held.
The firm will also be required to keep archival facilities for storage of content up to a year.
The RFP states a team of 12 social media executives will be responsible for creating and designing content to be published on the social media accounts of the I&B ministry.
Why the clauses may have been removed
Senior government officials cite three reasons why the mandate for social media “sentiment analysis” may have been withdrawn.
“One is that the government does not want to court more controversy by adding clauses to do with social media monitoring, learning from past experiences,” one of the senior government officials said.
Secondly, the official added, the government has realised over the years that social media sentiment analysis reports depict a picture that is far from accurate.
“The software used was largely dependent on machine learning and, as a result, a lot of unrelated junk on social media distorted the sentiment analysis or ‘listening reports’, giving an inaccurate picture that could not be used,” the official said.
A second official added that there are hardly any firms that can handle both the jobs together — sentiment analysis and coverage and packaging of content. “That could be a factor, too,” the official said.
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