Civil servants and officers may be allowed to participate on social media, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, but criticism of the government will strictly not be allowed, according to a proposal by the department of personnel and training.
“Previous sanction of the Government shall not be required when member of the service, in bonafide, discharge of their duties or otherwise publishes a book or article or contributes to or participates in an public media including social media websites,” the proposal said.
However, they will not be allowed to criticize the government in any document over any public media published anonymously or pseudo-anonymously, it added. The member of service will not make a statements critical of the government or its policies on television, social media or any other communication application. Interestingly, caricatures are included as documents which may be considered as criticizing the government.
Criticism of any policy or action by the central or state government will not be allowed. Any statements capable of embarrassing relations between the central and state governments are prohibited under the guidelines. Similarly, criticism which could affect relationships between the government and foreign state are not allowed.
The government has the right to form or establish a policy to manage its social presence better. However, there are a number of points which point to gray areas and may impede on freedom of expression. What would constitute as “embarrassing” and amount to criticism? The point of caricatures being included as documents critical of the government is absurd (although it seems in line with the fact that India can’t take a joke). What if there is a cartoon which pokes fun at government policies, and an officer “Likes” it on Facebook, would that amount to criticism and result in action taken against him/her? Would forwarding a WhatsApp joke and not necessarily publishing the joke be considered as criticism?
SBI’s social media policy
In December 2014, State Bank of India (SBI), the country’s largest bank, issued a code of conduct for social media which said that employees are not allowed to create or join any groups on social networks which had SBI’s name or logo. It also said that employees will not be allowed to create anonymous profiles and have to use their real names.
Other bizarre social media codes of conduct
The Times Group has a social media policy where journalists and employees were asked to hand over their social media credentials to BCCL where both the company and employees could post content. Following outrage from journalists, the contracts were modified and there were multiple versions of the same. Last year, Times of India created a new policy where its journalists’ paychecks will be dependent on whether or not they join specialised WhatsApp groups to share breaking news updates. The emails, of which MediaNama has copies, detail that all journalists must file, every week, at least three WhatsApp alerts. More on that here.
The Hindu had a social media policy where employees were told to refrain from sharing stories of other publications.