Update (August 3, 12:25 pm)
In response to a parliamentary question, the IT Ministry on August 2 named the following four agencies empanelled with MyGov for influencer marketing:
- Appinventiv Technologies
- Clanify Media
- Savin Communication
- Windchimes Communications
A total of 14 bids were received and 4 agencies have been empanelled with MyGov. The remaining 10 bids are under evaluation. No work has been assigned to these empanelled agencies and no expenditure has been incurred so far, the Ministry added.
Orginal story (July 25, 6:19 pm)
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting informed the Parliament on Tuesday, July 25 that the IT Ministry has empanelled four agencies to work with influencers for dissemination of information related to government schemes and campaigns. I&B Minister Anurag Thakur was responding to questions in the Parliament about the tender ‘Request for Empanelment (RFE) for selection of Influencer Marketing Agencies for Empanelment with MyGov’ issued by the Ministry of Electronics & IT in March this year.
Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari questioned whether the government has collaborated or intended to collaborate with social media influencers under the abovementioned tender and also requested details of the amount spent on the empanelment of such social media marketing agencies/influencers. Anurag Thakur replied stating:
“Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology (MeitY) has informed that MyGov has in March 2023 undertaken a process for empanelment of influencer marketing agencies with an objective of enabling wider dissemination and enhance citizen engagement in respect of information related to various schemes/campaigns/initiatives of Government of India. Based on response to the bid, MyGov has empanelled four agencies. No amount has been spent under the said empanelment process till date.”
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Thakur did not provide details of the four empanelled agencies and the capacity in which they work with the government.
Recently it was reported that ministers, including Rajeev Chandrasekhar, appeared as guests on a podcast by Ranveer Allahbadia, popularly known as BeerBiceps. It was pointed out on Twitter that these podcast episodes were “co-presented by MyGov” – a part of Digital India Corporation, under the IT Ministry. The collaboration triggered a debate about the nature of such partnerships with influencers, the criteria on the basis of which the influencers were chosen by the government to speak about important governance matters and the ethical issues involved in an influencer taking on a role of a journalist at a time when most of the government ministers are averse to questions raised by journalists.
No response to MediaNama’s RTI: When in March, the MeitY issued a tender for the empanelment of various social media marketing agencies—primarily to bring on board influencers for enhancing the reach of its MyGov platform—it was established that government-endorsed influencer content is likely to be pushed on people’s social media apps. In order to gain information on the type and terms of collaboration, we asked MeitY the following questions via Right to Information.
- A list of the agency/agencies that won the bid.
- A copy of the contract detailing the capacities in which the agencies will work with MeitY or the concerned authority for MyGov projects.
In response to our request, MyGov said that the requested information is not available with the agency.
Why it matters: While a tender was issued, the fact that the government is refusing to share information on the nature of collaboration with social media marketing agencies is concerning. In times when influencers wield a considerable amount of power on people’s minds, in what ways can the reach be used to influence opinions and views about government projects is a concerning question. Infamous for misleading people on critical subjects, influencers can also add to larger misinformation trends, especially during an election year. Experts have also called for full disclosure of terms of contracts, payments made to participating entities or individual influencers, and codes of practices followed for interviews conducted by influencers among others.
Is the government relying on influencers for advertising?
Tewari questioned whether the government has any plan to “ensure fair ad revenue distribution and prevent social media space monopolization” with the increasing reliance on influencers for government advertising. To which Thakur replied, informing that the Central Bureau of Communications under the I&B Ministry undertakes campaigns for “publicity/ awareness generation of programmes/schemes of Government of India”.
“For this purpose, the CBC has in place transparent Policy Guidelines for empanelment of media/agencies and release of advertisements and other promotions on media platforms, including for digital media/social media,” the Minister added.
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Update (August 3, 12:25 pm): The article was updated with the IT Ministry’s response naming the four agencies and the headline was changed to reflect the new information.