New Delhi. After Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian company behind the Blackberry smartphone, bowed to official pressure to provide access to all text messages on its network, the Indian Government is stepping up its online monitoring campaign. The social networking site Facebook is the latest target as the government aims for access to the status updates and messages of the citizens for security reasons.
“We will not be hiding in the shadows”, explained Government communications expert Rajiv Singh, “We are going to be open and friendly – we want to be friends with the whole country.” The Government of India (GOI) has recently registered on the site and has already befriended half a million public sector workers.
A dedicated team is sending out thousands of friendship requests an hour using voter registers. International friends are also being sought with Viswanathan Anand being the first one. A request sent to Barak Obama has not yet yielded a response whilst a friend request and message from David Cameron talking about how “we’re all friends now” is being diplomatically ignored.
The GOI profile lists the Government’s gender as “91% male, 9% female”, political views as “it’s complicated” and interests as “revenues, arguing, expenses and nepotism”. The Government “likes” block voting, nuclear power and the recent floods in Pakistan and it is “attending” the UN next week.
“The point is to get closer to the citizens”, says Singh, “and also to monitor the site for terrorism, illegal activities and for people bad mouthing the Commonwealth Games”.
“I thought it was a joke”, said Pooja, who became friends with the Government yesterday, “but within ten minutes they commented on all my pictures”. She clicks on a party shot under which the Government had commented, “LOL, wow looks wild! But should a young girl like you be drinking? Does your father know? And that brand of whiskey is not legally on sale in Delhi. Please declare it to the nearest police station and pay the necessary import tax”.
De-friending, the process of shedding unwanted friends, has proved difficult for some. “I de-friended the Government last night after they wrote – Crazee! But it looks like you’re speeding, be more careful, the traffic police have your number – under a shot of me on my bike”, said Gaurav, “Then these guys in suits and sunglasses arrived at 3AM; they started talking about “treason” and asking me why I was “against the government” and what my real name was”.
Facebook will also play a role in the next national elections, electoral officials claim. “The next election will be decided on the back of how many friends each candidate has and how many people “like” their manifestos”, explained Anand Chaudry, an election official. It was pointed out that only a tiny percentage of Indians own a computer, but Chaudry dismissed that point, stating that “it doesn’t matter, everyone will be friends with the Government of India by then as 3G would connect whole of India through internet.”