The Ministry of Human Resource Development has denied it wants to monitor college students’ social media accounts through an order to higher education institutions last week. The ministry said that it asked for students’ accounts to be connected to those of their colleges for the sharing of “best practices”, ThePrint reported on Tuesday.

In a circular on July 3, the ministry’s secretary R Subrahmanyam had asked all higher education institutions to name a faculty member to be their “social media champion”. This would connect the institutions with each other as well as the ministry, and help them share their achievements through social media.

The “social media champion” would be expected to communicate the good work done by their institution and students with all others. They would also need to “connect all the students’ Twitter/Facebook/Instagram accounts with [their institution’s] Twitter/Facebook/Instagram accounts as well as the MHRD’s [ministry’s] Twitter/Facebook/Instagram accounts”.

The circular did not elaborate on what it meant by “connecting” accounts.

“This step is only for sharing the good news,” Subrahmanyam told ThePrint. “Anyone who understands how social media works would know that sharing of Twitter handles would not enable accessing the accounts. This is elementary knowledge.”

Subrahmanyam also said it was not compulsory for students to share posts or follow the institutions’ accounts. “It is only to share good practices by the institutes and motivate each other by best performances,” the secretary was quoted as saying.

Unidentified senior officials in the ministry told ThePrint that the letter was an extension of a plan being discussed for some time now to promote educational institutions on social media. The ministry had urged the higher education institutions in May to open Twitter and Facebook accounts and share their achievements.

Some students and teachers expressed concerns about the move. Abha Dev Habib, an assistant professor at Miranda House, told News18: “We have the websites and other ways to show positive work. Why use the informal spaces? Tomorrow I can be questioned on having certain political views or for criticising the government.”

The All India Students Association accused the government of attempting to have “moral policing” on campuses.

Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Ayesha Kidwai told The Quint: “This is ridiculous, and it is a clear attempt by the government at implementing surveillance on even the personal spaces of students.”

Delhi University student Jyotsana Singh told ThePrint that the move was not problematic. “One can be on social media as much as they want to be,” she said. “Also, it is not mandatory for students to share their accounts, so if I don’t want to do it, I will not, thankfully there are no credits attached to this so I do not find it as problematic.”