The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal for establishing a New Media Wing under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to handle government’s social media platforms. The expenditure for the new unit and the recurring expenditure would cost Rs 22.5 crore during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17), which has been approved by the CCEA under Development Communication & Information Dissemination plan scheme of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The New Media Wing will handle communications on social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter and the proposal was drawn on the basis of the experience of the initiative undertaken by the Ministry for a pilot project. Research & training Division will be providing administrative and operational support for the unit.

It’s not clear whether the government plans to outsource handling the social media accounts to social media agencies or have an in-house team.

Social media has become an important means for the government to broadcast news and information (and, occasionally, misleading information) as both citizens and media persons are increasingly turning to social networking sites to get their news.

On social networking sites, users expect a two way communication from the accounts they subscribe to, and this is where the Prime Minister’s account on Twitter has been particularly lame, although the Ministry of External Affairs has so far done an excellent job. Many government officials and ministers use their social networking accounts in their personal capacity, so we wonder if their usage (if managed by external parties) is going to be subsidised by the government.

Social media and government

During the Karnataka Assembly Elections, all political parties made their presence felt on social media through established IT cells, as part of the election preparations to  manage accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos.

While the government has made its presence felt on social media, it also has a love and hate relationship with the social networking sites. Between January to June 2013, Twitter received 1 removal request through a court order and 1 removal request by government or police authorities that specified less than 10 user accounts and it complied with 50% of these requests. In February 2013, Indian Government approved the decision to block 306 accounts on the micro-blogging site Twitter. The accounts were blocked after the communal clashes which took place in Assam’s Kokrajhar district and found that some of these Twitter accounts had uploaded few of the morphed pictures which led to the clashes last year and it believes these Twitter accounts has the potential to inflame communal tension in the country.

In May 2013, we noticed what appears to be an official Twitter account of the Uttar Pradesh Police. According to them, they had planned to expand social media initiatives to 21 Police districts.