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Modi govt invites bids to monitor online data, 2 years after scrapping controversial tender

The 2018 tender was scrapped after the Supreme Court called it an example of a ‘surveillance state’. The new ‘Expression of Interest’ is a continuation of the 2017 EOI.

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New Delhi: Two years after the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) withdrew a controversial tender to set up a social media communications hub to monitor online data, the Narendra Modi government has once again invited bids from agencies to do the job as and when it requires.

An ‘Expression of Interest’ (EOI) was floated on 18 September by the public sector undertaking Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL) for empanelling agencies which can track social media, monitor social media sentiments, segregate activities into ‘problematic’ and ‘non-problematic’, make content go viral, and perform a range of other activities. This EOI is a continuation of an earlier 2017 EOI.

Four companies have since expressed their interest, ThePrint has learnt.

The social media platforms that are expected to be monitored include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. What’s likely to be monitored and analysed is open source data.

The 2018 tender was withdrawn after the Supreme Court compared it to a “surveillance state”. It was meant to hire agencies directly for monitoring of social media data.

Also read: To curb online hate speech, India needs a Code of Conduct — without govt control

Agencies will be empanelled

A senior government official explained that the agencies will be selected on their technical qualifications, and will likely be empanelled to be used by any ministry or department, as and when required, by floating a financial bid or a limited tender enquiry.

“The agencies will likely monitor and analyse what is available on open source, even when it comes to social media users or accounts, to get a general idea of the sentiments on specific topics,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

The empanelled agencies, when employed by a department or a ministry, are likely to perform a similar role as envisaged in the earlier tender that was scrapped by the government.

The selected agency or agencies would be tasked with detecting and analysing various activities on social media and segregating them into ‘problematic’ and ‘non-problematic’, based on various keywords such as violence, holocaust, riots etc.

They will have to monitor social media trends and sentiments, including those connected to government-related activities and social campaigns and events.

What EOI wants agencies to have

The EOI states that the agencies should have a “listening tool”, identify influencers and generate analytical reports. A listening tool is a software that can identify the frequency of use of a topic or keyword, for example, Covid, across a social media platform.

It adds that the agencies should have a software that would be able to monitor individual social media users’ accounts, social media sentiments, track overall trends on various social media platforms and message monitoring to aid understanding of overall social media response to a message, tweet or data.

The EOI states the software tool would be able to perform like search engine, which would be able to search various hash-tags and keywords across social media platforms and be able to generate reports of the activities, based on various trends, analytics, keywords etc.

The reports, it states, could be tweets-based, user/accounts-based or even keywords-based, and could be daily, weekly or monthly.

The selected agency or agencies would also be responsible for storage of all monitoring-related content and data by means of an online or offline archival support with cloud-based server (online) and also server location based in the client’s communication hub (offline).

The agency should provide technical and domain expert manpower for support, 24×7 functioning, operation and maintenance of social media communication hub and various social media platforms through in-house staff for the entire duration of the contract.

Also read: Modi govt was handed weak data institutions by Congress, but it ruined them further

Making content go viral, enrolling new digital volunteers 

The agency or agencies would be responsible for making content go viral on the internet and social media sites.

“This will make the schemes, policies of the government to reach on various social media platforms to the last mile on the internet domain in real time basis,” the EOI states.

They should have the capability to develop interesting and innovative content, campaigns, competitions, so as to have proper communication strategy to enhance the reach of content in real-time basis on internet platforms.

They will also be tasked with enrolling new “digital volunteers and engagement with existing digital volunteers”.

Also read: Facebook, Twitter can’t police on speech violation. Only Indian law can


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