India sets up social media monitoring lab

Mumbai police have set up a facility to monitor social networks for public sentiment and moods, to detect in advance possible mass gatherings or protests.
Written by Nitin Puri, Contributor

A specially-trained team of 20 police officers will staff The Social Media Lab and will work around the clock to keep an eye on issues being publicly discussed and track matters relating to public order. The intent behind the Social Media Lab is to assess changes in mass moods that could lead to gatherings and or possible protests on a large scale.

The Social Media Lab, inaugurated on Saturday by Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan, will gauge the mood of people on social media. They will also follow active netizens on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks.

In other words, police will keep a close watch on Internet activists.

In November, Mumbai Police sparked outrage and fierce debate about India's Internet laws by arresting two young women over a Facebook post criticizing the shutdown of Mumbai after the death of a local hardline politician. The case also included several arrests across India for political cartoons or comments made online.

Naturally, this raises the question of the freedom of expression and the rights of Indian citizens. However, the average social media user shouldn't change their online behavior and habits, as this monitoring is not related to censorship. After all, the intent of the Social Media Lab is to prevent demonstrations and protests which can not only cripple a city, but the entire country.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and others will be monitored by Mumbai Police's Social Media Lab.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and others will be monitored by Mumbai Police's Social Media Lab. (credit: http://hosting.ber-art.nl)

Furthermore, most police departments across India, such as Delhi Police, already have dedicated cybercells and are active in maintaining law and order. For example, Delhi Police is active on Facebook and Twitter, by not only reaching to social media users for tips for crimes, but also by providing real-time traffic updates.

If social media users look at the positive versus the negative and embrace online monitoring, it's for their own good.

Another way to look at this is to realize and understand the millions of youth within India who are already active on social media. Some form of moderation and monitoring is in fact required, especially at an early age, to deter users from falling into the pitfalls of online bullying or even cybercrimes itself.

That being said, while the argument of freedom of expression will always be debated regarding online monitoring, social media users should also realize that real-time monitoring of posts and updates are just another way of being safe and secure, both online and offline. Media tends to only report the how online policing results in the arrests or detainment of others, when in fact, it can and has already been used for the safety and security purposes of both people and their communities within India.

According to social media experts, the amount of data covered by posts, updates, and tweets, will be next to impossible to monitor. Instead the department can single out netizens with criminal records, anti-social and anti-national agendas and track their online activities.

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