The ministry of human resource development (MHRD) issued a letter on July 3rd 2019 to all colleges and universities. The directive will impact over 900 universities and 40,000 colleges, both government and private run. Each institution has been asked to appoint their ‘Social Media Champion’ by the end of July. However, what is worrying both HEIs and their students is the directive about getting all students to link their social media accounts with MHRD. Isn’t following anyone a purely voluntary option?

Social Media Champions

Not all education institutions spend much effort on their social media pages. In light of that, the directive asking each institution to identify either a faculty or non-faculty as their SMC is a good move. However, social media management is not a part-time activity and needs focused efforts. The Social Media Champion is tasked with a lot of responsibilities such as

• Communicate with other HEIs through their social media pages to update each other and MHRD about their college and students ‘good work’
The worry: How do colleges keep in communication with 40,000 other institutions? Does this mean they need to follow all 40K? The operative complexities are mind-boggling

• Each HEI should have a active Twitter/Facebook/Instagram account
The worry: Most institutions have a Facebook account but now they need to have a multi-pronged social media strategy.

• Post on their social media pages, at least one ‘positive story” about their institution, every week
No worries: This seems straight forward after all. Though positive is always subjective.

• Retweet/Share other HEIs positive stories so that institutions and students can learn from these success stories.
The worry: Keeping a tab on other HEIs is never easy and then sharing it is time-consuming.

• Connect all students’ Twitter/Facebook/Instagram accounts not only with their own institution’s social media pages but also with MHRD.
The worry: We are talking about more than 3 crore students. How do SMCs even go about this? All students don’t connect to their Institution on even one platform, let alone three.

Students worried about surveillance

The controversial part of the directive is about ‘connecting’ students accounts to their own institution as well as MHRD. No clear understanding has been given about how this ‘connecting’ will happen. Students are worried about what they call surveillance. Institutions are worried about how they are supposed to get students connected, not just on one platform but on three social media channels. Will the students be asked to follow or will MHRD follow the students accounts. The first is hard to enforce, the second is difficult to do when it is 3 crore students. It is easier ensuring that all HEI social media accounts follow MHRD.

Social media is an informal space, it has become a place of opinion mobilisation. Students are justifiable concerned that MHRD latest directive seems to want to keep tabs on them. With current Artificial intelligence tools, it is possible to create personas based on public post types on individual social media pages. This does not mean that it will be done but the capability will be there if social media data of all student accounts are accessible.

The Secretary of the Department of Higher Education, R Subrahmanyam has come out to clear any misconception that has arisen. He says it is not compulsory for students to share their social media accounts with either the HEI or MHRD. The sole purpose of the directive is to ensure that good news is shared.

As a voluntary process it leaves the choice with the student. The attempt to make HEIs communicate with each other is a good step but making MHRD a part of the conversation has thrown up awkward questions. It is very early days, as we go forwards, it should get clearer.