Is your money being used to promote the Modi government?

Reports have emerged of YouTubers and social media influencers using their platforms to promote government schemes — with GoI ministries endorsing them

Screen grab of podcast between Ranveer Allahabadia, also known as BeerBiceps, and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar (Photo: NH Library)
Screen grab of podcast between Ranveer Allahabadia, also known as BeerBiceps, and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar (Photo: NH Library)

NH Digital

A series of video interviews with Indian ministers have appeared online on various social influencers' channels — all of which carry a similar tag, stating they have been sponsored by the Indian government’s mobile-based application, MyGov.

This has led netizens to wonder whether the Centre has commissioned these interviews specifically with a view to using social media influencers to promote the Centre and its various schemes.

There was also an advertisement in print publications, sponsored by YouTube and endorsed by the Indian ministry of information technology, telling users to check whether their "expert" is "real".

One such print advertisement was in The Economic Times' June 26 where the morning edition had finance influencer @CARachanaRanade on the first page. Many Twitter users have questioned whether the government had started endorsing individuals rather than SEBI-certified financial advisors.

Meanwhile, a group of handpicked influencers received an audience with minister of commerce Piyush Goyal on June 25. The minister convened a meeting of 50 influential social media influencers. Among the influencers were Vivek Bindra (motivational speaker), Ganesh Prasad (Think School), Gaurav Chaudhary (Technical Guruji), Rafull Billore (MBA Chai Wala) and Anushka Rathod (Anushka Rathod Finance), among others.

In an article published on Tuesday, 27 June, the New Indian Express said, 'The minister took feedback from the YouTubers on how the government can propagate its schemes through them. Other discussed topics included cyber security, ways to boost tourism, popularising handlooms and handicrafts, creating more content on benefits of Shree Anna (millets), among others.'

Economic Times ad 'Hit Pause' endorsed by MeitY (@ActusDei/Twitter)
Economic Times ad 'Hit Pause' endorsed by MeitY (@ActusDei/Twitter)

As for the interviews, a couple were published on Ranveer Allahabadia’s (Beer Biceps) and Raj Shamani’s YouTube channels with ministers, which nod at a 'partnership' with the MyGov app in the description itself.

MyGov is an app which is a business sub-division of the Centre's Digital India Corporation, a non-profit set up by the ministry of electronics and information technology. It had been established as a social media platform for citizens, allowing them to reach out to the respective GoI ministries for their issues. It is functional in 21 states, with two crore users

Before the meeting held by Goyal, Allahabadia had started his podcasts with Union Ministers around two weeks ago, nearing the middle of June. Coincidentally, Shamani uploaded his first podcast with a Union Minister around the same time.

Allahabadia posted interviews with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, Union IT minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar and minister of trade and commerce Piyush Goyal. All of them garnered over a million views. Beer Biceps, which has 5.62 million subscribers on YouTube, has run the video interviews with the acknowledgement that they had been made in "collaboration with @MyGovIndia".

Meanwhile, Shamani's eponymous YouTube channel has accumulated over 2 million views on his interview video with Gadkari. His description of the video includes the acknowledgement “in collaboration with @MyGovIndia”.

Beer Biceps' podcast with Rajeev Chandrasekhar, @MyGovIndia is highlighted (Photo: @SmallTownerr/Twitter)
Beer Biceps' podcast with Rajeev Chandrasekhar, @MyGovIndia is highlighted (Photo: @SmallTownerr/Twitter)

The content of these podcasts have been fairly innocent, highlighting government schemes and the way forward. However, it is the lack of transparency that stick as a thorn.

So are these collaborations 'highlighting' government schemes being paid for with taxpayers’ money, through a tender perhaps?

The "Request for Empanelment (RFE) for Selection of Influencer Marketing Agencies for Empanelment with MyGov" tender opened on 7 March 2023, and seems to indicate that marketing and social media management agencies would be used to broadcast information on government schemes.

According to a report by Medianama, the government wants to reach out "to a wider targeted population and enhance citizen engagement to a higher level" through influencer marketing and to expand the reach of MyGov in every union territory and state.

It is still unclear what the winning bids were worth.

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