The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has been monitoring the social media activities and accounts of Union ministers 24×7, on the basis of which it prepares a report card that takes into account various parameters to decide their online performance and rank them. The report card is then sent to the concerned ministers every two months.

Sources in various ministries stated that the PMO is serious about their online presence and has been nudging them to go beyond tweeting photographs and statements related to their departments and respond to tweets made by individuals seeking a particular ministry’s intervention.

Dr Hiren Joshi, OSD in the PMO, who has been a trusted aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is monitoring the social media presence of the ministers and their ministries. He is an electronics engineer from Pune with a PhD from the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Gwalior. 

Recently, a virus attack led the Twitter account of a minister share two obscene videos online. The virus attack had affected many Twitter users. Even before the minister or his staff noticed that there had been a virus attack, the minister got a call from the PMO informing him about the problem. After this the minister’s staff handling social media was given directions by the PMO on how to prevent such attacks in the future.

A couple of such “social media performance” report cards seen by this newspaper have details about how many followers a particular minister gained, how many tweets he posted, which were the tweets that generated the maximum number of attention and which were the hashtags that the particular minister tweeted on.

In a recent such report that takes into account the time period between 15 July and 31 August, Union Minister for Textiles, Smriti Irani secured the top position for gaining the maximum number of followers (3.86 lakh), followed by Arun Jaitley (3.69 lakh) and Sushma Swaraj (3.13 lakh).

Similarly, Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan (18) topped the category of “tweets per day”. He was followed by Piyush Goyal (16 tweets) and Maneka Gandhi and Harsimrat Kaur (10).

In the category of “engagement per tweet” (tweets seen, liked, retweeted and replied to by followers), Manohar Parrikar emerged as the leader, with each of his tweets being engaged by 1,700 people, on an average. He was followed by Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley.

On Facebook, Rajnath Singh’s homepage is the most “liked”, followed by Irani’s and Jaitley’s, the report suggests.

The continuous monitoring of social media by the PMO and regular feedbacks by way of the report card keep the ministers on their toes. They treat this activity as compulsory work rather than a formality. Among the parameters on which the Twitter performance of the ministers are decided by the PMO includes “sharing forthcoming events, creatively engaging followers through quiz, volunteering etc, countering opposition propaganda, fact check, satire/cartoons, powerful human visuals, data/info graphics, media coverage and using ‘transforming India hashtags’.” It also includes the demographic of the people who interacted with the ministers and “sentiments  (positive, negative, neutral) that were generated by the tweets.”

A key aide of a minister who is proactive on Twitter said, “The objective behind pushing for more and more social media interaction and presence is to bridge the gap between the people and the ministers and make the ministers more accountable as they know that their work is being actively monitored on the social media by the people.”

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister for Minority Affairs, recently decided to extend the last date for applying for the pre-matriculation and post-matriculation scholarship after getting a large number of requests to this end on Twitter. Many of the students had said they had difficulty applying because of internet related issues.

However, certain ministers are still wary of being too much on social media because of the abuses that they get from anonymous handles. “We see all kinds of abuses that can rattle anyone and it is something that can disturb even a hardened minister, due to which my boss is a little wary of interacting with Twitter handles. So as soon as we see any abusive tweet, we immediately block the handle and rather than taking all the requests and queries to him, we only inform him about the genuine ones,” said an official who handles the social media presence of a minister.

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