Linking social media to HRD an Orwellian directive

The central government’s move to link the social media handles of the students of all colleges and universities with the social media accounts of the human resources development (HRD) ministry and the institutions where they study has serious implications for the rights and freedoms of students as citizens. It is not an innocent and well-intentioned plan, as claimed by the ministry. A letter from the department of higher education to the heads of all institutions has told them to implement the plan this month. It will link the accounts of about 30 million students of over 40,000 colleges and 900 universities to the platforms of the institutions and the government. The institutions have been told to identify faculty members or others as ‘social media champions’ to communicate the “good work’’ done by the institutions and the students. This is the official purpose of the plan, but its implications are as obvious as they are dangerous. 

The social media accounts include the most used and popular forums of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. By linking them with itself, the government gets the opportunity and power to access them and conduct surveillance and monitoring of the students’ thoughts and activities. There are many other ways of assessing the work of institutions and students and communicating it. There is no need to screen the personal social media accounts of students for that. It is an invasion of privacy and the beginning of a surveillance society. The Supreme Court has declared that privacy is a fundamental right. The purpose stated by the government for its plan cannot be a ground for violation of that right. The previous Modi government has shown its proclivity to prying into the lives of citizens on various pretexts. It is continuing that ‘tradition’ in this term. 

The linking of social media accounts may be used for profiling of students on the basis of the information on them, the thoughts or activities represented there or the friends or associates who figure there. Such profiling could hurt the students in future when they look for jobs or enter other fields of life. Political and other beliefs of students may be scrutinised, and dissidents can be identified and dealt with. It is also possible that institutions and students will be tempted to make wrong claims about their performance. The government has claimed that the linkage is not compulsory and that the sharing of Twitter handles will not give it access to accounts. But the words and intentions of the government in the matter cannot be taken at face value, and the move should be widely resisted in the interest of privacy and freedom of thought and speech.

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