New Delhi: A Ministry of Human Resource Development order seeking social media accounts of all higher education students to be connected with that of institutes and the ministry has raised hackles in the academic fraternity, with some fearing the exercise may be misused to profile and target students with contrarian political views.
The order issued by Higher Education Secretary R Subrahmanyam last week lays down a mechanism seeking to “connect all the student’s Twitter/Facebook/Instagram account" with social media accounts of higher education institutions as well as the HRD ministry.
The ministry, however, has not specified how social media accounts would be linked or connected with the institutions and ministry, and what this entire exercise entails for students.
The letter claims the purpose is to publicise at least one positive story by the institution or a student every week so that stakeholders can learn from the exchange on social media platforms.
But a section of the teaching community and students are apprehensive that the information collected may be used to single out and persecute those with certain political views.
“We have the websites and other ways to show positive work. Why use the informal spaces? Tomorrow I can be questioned on having certain political views or for criticising the government," said Abha Dev Habib, assistant professor at Miranda House College in Delhi.
The project in each institution will be piloted by an employee who would be designated the ‘social media champion’. The SMC would be expected to “Open (if not there) and operate SM accounts of the institutions", and connect them to higher education institutes, HRD ministry and all the students.
The Left-affiliated All India Students Association (AISA) has accused the government of attempting to introduce “moral policing" on campuses.
An official from the ministry, however, say the order is “voluntary" and does not make it incumbent upon students to share their social media details with the institute.
Explaining the objective, the HRD official said, “It is to share good practices and motivate each other by best performances. It is not compulsory. They need not share if they don’t want to."
The official said that the government will not use this move to track and police criticism of the current dispensation and the political establishment by students. “This is only for sharing the good news. Anyone who understands how social media works would know that sharing of Twitter handles would not enable accessing the accounts. This is elementary knowledge."
Experts, however, are skeptical.
"This kind of connecting of social media handles is wrought with a number of practical challenges. It will lead to more monitoring of our own academia. Secondly, if created, it will lead to more collection of data, and profiling will become easier. You may be vulnerable to targeting if views are not in sync with the government," said Dr. Pavan Duggal, an advocate who specializes in cyber law.