The Assam government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, wants its employees to “stay away from political discussions” while using social media in their “official capacity”. A draft policy governing the use of social media by state officials also suggests they refrain from making “personal comments for or against any individuals or agencies”.

“With the speed of communication not offering the luxury of differentiating between official and personal content, using social media for official purposes should follow some guiding principles to keep conversation and interaction smooth,” it states.

The draft policy was released on August 8 and is publicly available for comments and feedback from “citizens and domain experts” until September 15.

A borrowed policy

The draft policy notes that it is borrowed from the “Framework and Guidelines for Use of Social Media for Government Organisations” prepared by the now bifurcated Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in 2012, under the Manmohan Singh government. But the framework, unlike Assam’s draft policy, stops short of expressly asking officials to refrain from engaging in political conversations. Instead, it recommends that “professional discussions should not be politicised”.

There is much that is similar, though. Like the 2012 guidelines, the draft policy prohibits employees from initiating “a conversation, comment or response to a reaction unless authorised”. “This must be firmly adhered to especially in the matters that are sub-judice, draft legislations or relating to other individuals,” the draft policy affirms.

It urges officials to be “polite and respectful during all discussions” and respond to posts and comments, “positive or negative”, with “grace”. It also reminds them it is “not necessary” to respond to each and every post or comment “immediately and individually”. “Also,” it adds, “wherever a response is required all posts should be kept short and to the point.”

Assam’s employees, the draft policy suggests, can respond to queries and comments in their personal capacity as long as they “clearly identify themselves”. “Confidential information must not be divulged and should not be seen to represent ‘official view’ unless authorised to do so,” they add.

Apart from seeking feedback from citizens, disseminating information about policies and generating awareness about national action plans, the draft policy says the state’s officials and organisations can use social media for “brand building or public relations”.

In Kashmir’s footsteps?

Assam is not the first state to issue social media guidelines for its employees. In December 2017, the Jammu and Kashmir government prohibited officials from criticising its policies on social media. It also restricted them from using “personal social media accounts for any political activity or endorse the posts or tweets or blogs of any political figure”.

Previously, the Union government was reported to be planning to make the 2012 guidelines stricter. In July, it initiated an inquiry against the Kashmiri bureaucrat Shah Faesal for writing some Twitter posts that allegedly violated service rules.