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Indian Ministry Wants Students to ‘Connect’ Their Social Media Accounts to their College's

Students, teachers and youth rights activists are worried that this might be a way for authorities to collect personal data and target those with views against the government.

by Shamani Joshi
11 July 2019, 10:01am

Image via Pixabay

In a recent order issued by the Indian Higher Education Secretary R Subrahmanyam, the Indian government now wants to “connect to students” by asking them to link their social media accounts to all higher education institutes (HEI), as well as the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (HRD). Each institute has been asked to pick out a ‘Social Media Champion’, who will absorb everything these students share on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and pick out posts to share on the institute's official social media accounts.

But if you’re wondering why the government is bothered about keeping tabs on your face-filter selfies, meme shitposts and #BottleCapChallenge videos, it’s apparently so they can give a shoutout to all your achievements and applaud the institutions for work well done. Except, a bunch of students, teachers and tech experts are calling bullshit on this new policy that will monitor at least 30 million students and over 900 universities across the country, saying it would be a total invasion of their privacy, and that there’s a chance of personal data being collected for all the wrong reasons.

“This is ridiculous, and it is a clear attempt by the government at implementing surveillance on even the personal spaces of students,” Ayesha Kidwai, a professor at JNU, told The Quint. Many teachers also feel that stalking the students’ social media makes no sense since they are more likely to publicise their after-school debauchery instead of their greatest achievements.

“With institutions tracking informal spaces, students may be pushed to share ‘positive’ stories about institutions and government policies,” Rajib Ray, president of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association, told The Telegraph. “We would rather prefer that the HEIs create spaces on their websites on which students can share their stories. Informal spaces available to citizens to express their stories and opinion should not be taken away.”

Meanwhile, students are pissed off about having their #SelfieSunday possibly under scrutiny. In fact, the Left-affiliated All India Students' Association (AISA) has even accused the government of “moral policing” on campuses and said that this move would curb their “freedom of expression”.

“Formalising social media access is a slippery slope,” Sudhanshu Kaushik, the founder of Young India Foundation, a national youth rights activist organisation told VICE. “More often than not a majority of the cases of criminalisation of freedom of speech is against young people. Whether it’s in West Bengal or Madhya Pradesh, young people are getting beaten up and imprisoned, informally and formally. Given that premise, this new order legitimises a police state and the local authorities won’t even need an FIR for things to be brought to their attention.”

But the HRD official maintains that this move is a way to share good practices and motivate each other by best performances, insisting that it is not a compulsion. “They need not share if they don’t want to,” the official stated. But Kaushik disagrees.

“As a young person, if I’m not satisfied with the school curriculum or professor, I would talk about it on social media. But with this measure in place, what I say or post in my daily life is impacted since the focus is on the positive, but what about the negative? This can turn into a way to clamp down on your opinions and make sure they aren’t vocalised.” He also stresses that the superficiality of the circular and the fact that there are no instructions on how it’s going to be implemented make things scarily uncertain. “We don’t know how colleges, especially in rural areas, will apply this rule, and there’s no way to make sure that this doctrine is applied without any data privacy concerns.”

So while it’s important to think before you tweet, if government authorities start mining social media for information on the students, the situation could quickly become similar to the one in China, where student activity is constantly monitored through social media linking. And even if you’re okay with authorities having access to your #Wokeuplikethis selfies, your social media account says more than your caption, and there’s nothing woke about officials being allowed to have that kind of information.

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This article originally appeared on VICE IN.