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Centre Using Social Media Influencers for ‘Paid Promotions’ ?

Internet Freedom Foundation questions the ‘use of public exchequer’ to fund influencer interactions with senior government functionaries.
Centre Using Social Media Influencers for ‘Paid Promotions’ ?

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On March 3, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) floated a tender titled ‘Request for Empanelment (RFE) for Selection of Influencer Marketing Agencies for Empanelment with MyGov’.

MyGov invites proposals (the “proposals/bids”) for the empanelment of various agencies (social media marketing agencies handling influencer marketing or specialised influencer marketing agencies) as per the scope given in this RFE document,” the tender read.

The government aims “to reach out to a wider targeted population and enhance citizen engagement to a higher level”.

Lawyer and Internet Freedom Foundation founder Apar Gupta raised several important issues about the tender in a series of tweets on Monday.

First, since “public expectations are low with print and TV broadcast media”, it does not mean bad practices must be continued”.

Second, “Is it proper for money from the public exchequer to fund influencer interactions with senior government functionaries”?

Third, Gupta asked whether audiences are “properly informed with existing disclosures that such interactions are not press interviews but paid promotions?”

Pointing to “stretched public resources” and subsidies, entitlements and rations, he said, “We must never forget that many, if not most Indians, fight a daily battle for survival”. In such a situation, is spending money on “paid promotions” prudent?

Questioning the transparency of the tender, Gupta said: “Inviting bids for procurement through a public tendering process by itself is not a complete measure of transparency ... Here it’s important for the bids, decision and financial outlays to be pro-actively disclosed.”

Besides, a tendering process having the highest levels of transparency “but by itself as an attribute will not legitimise the nature of the public purpose”, he added.

The nature of the activity that is being funded through public funds has to be judged independently. Even if, a specific promotion/interview is not directly funded through this specific tender, I hope in the interests of transparency, a full disclosure is made as to the commercial or working agreement.”

Gupta emphasised that “further disclosures and codes of practices will be necessary as more influencers step into the role of journalists especially when they interview politically connected persons (such as, on what conditions was the interview granted, were questions vetted in advance, etc.)”.

Gupta mentioned @BeerBicpesGuy, aka, Ranveer Allahbadia, a YouTuber/Podcaster and content creator with 5.62 million subscribers who has been interviewing several Union Cabinet ministers, including external affairs minister S Jaishankar and minister of state for electronics and IT and skill development and entrepreneurship Rajeev Chandrasekhar.



In an interview with Chandrasekhar, the YouTuber says, “At some point of time, computers are going to become so good that you will be actually able to create atoms and molecules inside a computer!” The minister replied, “Correct.”

Ironically, Ranveer had advocated eating beef in a September 14, 2013 tweet: “To all my Hindu friends who don’t eat beef. Remember those conversations about vegetarians not knowing what they’re missing out on? Well...”



Gupta pointed out that subsequent to the original @MyGovIndia tweet, a further notice was added that “it is an unpaid partnership”. “This is a welcome but inadequate viewer disclosure. I wonder if there are norms or a set of criteria under which MyGov engages with influencers or chooses one over another.”

It is important because “providing access to public officials interviewed in their official capacity cannot be discriminatory.

For instance, why does X get to interview and Y does not have to be as per a criterion”.

If MyGov is “acting as a government authority” and “entering collaborations with influencers to interview public officials”, it is performing a public broadcast function, he added.

Therefore, diverse viewpoints and media channels—supportive, critical and objective—must get the opportunity, Gupta further added.

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