The release of I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army by Swati Chaturvedi has opened up the pandora’s box which entails some of the most vicious and frugal tactics employed by leading political parties in India.
Brush up from the past
For the uninitiated, the 2014 General Elections has been one of the most successful stories narrated in the Indian Social Media history. Prime Minister Modi and the ruling party BJP also admits the pivotal role of Social Media in their land slide victory. Social Media evangelists and experts even called it the instance where Twitter really arrived in India.
Our analysis of the social media play from different political parties also demarcated the stark difference in the approach and application of the medium to drive home the party’s manifesto and agenda for the elections. Over the years BJP evolved as a pioneer in tapping the new age media to the best of its potential.
As quoted in our report earlier
Bharatiya Janta Party left no stone unturned in reaching out to the new and existing voters’ population through digital and social media platforms. The key highlight of BJP’s social media strategy was the seamless integration across various platforms with consistent communication and messaging. The party was phenomenal in terms of the usage of different social media platforms to the best of their capabilities.
With some exceptionally innovative campaigns and initiatives like Mere Sapnon Ka Bharat, NaMo Number, Chai Pe Charcha the party managed to register their presence synonymous with Growth, Development and Good Governance.
Beyond the stellar success of the campaign lies the time, commitment and sweat of volunteers from IT / Social Media Cell led by Arvind Gupta. The dedicated workforce which ensured that the party’s core communication reaches out to the nooks and corners of social media.
The transition from volunteers to online trolls
As they say with great power comes great responsibility and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The freedom of speech and expression with the power to wield influence over your followers has turned out to be a bane for the denizens of this democracy.
In her book, the author Swati Chaturvedi opines these yodhas wage a darker battle – against journalists who hold opposing views, minority communities like Muslims and Dalits, and opposition parties. This kind of fight is ugly, its weapons are vicious language, sex-filled imagery, outrageous lies and doctored photographs and videos
At the outset, the book goes a bit harsh on labeling the online trolls as Hindu Right Wings and nationalists who battle out anyone opposing the government but going by the author’s personal experiences and digging deeper there are ample facts to validate the statements made.
Raising concerns over PM Modi following some of the prominent online trolls on Twitter and felicitating them in a ceremony to presenting instances of senior BJP leaders supporting trolls and trending hashtags fuelled by these trolls, the book seems to be an exhaustive account with instances of trolls who indulge in the business of spreading violence and hate including the mass campaign against Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan during the volatile phase of intolerance debate
The allegations against BJP and PM Modi are supported with startling revelations from a supposed insider Sadhvi Khosla who has shared screenshots of emails and WhatsApp conversations with the Head of Social Media Cell – Arvind Gupta. Rebutting all the claims made in the book Arvind Gupta posted a series of tweets this morning
Buying *Influence* @ INR 7 per Tweet
The list of online trolls and their implicit connections with PM Modi and BJP form a strong case against the unsolicited Digital Army, one of the appendices displays a report on the demographics of twitter trends which support BJP or Narendra Modi. The report published by Ankit Lal (Head IT/Social Media at Aam Aadmi Party) on DailyO extracts data from the ongoing twitter trends pointing out the use of masked locations and fake accounts to trend the ruling party’s agenda.
On record, Ankit quoted that BJP employs paid influencer marketing tactics to trend malicious topics on Twitter and AAP has organic contributors and volunteers. Since we belong to the industry and we know how trends are gamed on Twitter, it is hard to believe that any of the political parties in India have not resorted to paid influencer marketing. Political parties keep denying the execution of a paid activity on Twitter but some or the other moles from the campaign release screenshots of WhatsApp relay or mailer shout outs. Here’s a screenshot for a campaign in favor of Aam Aadmi Party
Social Media Platforms were not invented to wage virtual battles mocking people’s opinions or spreading hate and violence. The whole purpose of building these entities was to facilitate a milieu which inspires people to connect beyond physical boundaries and encourage the feel good factor. Obviously, with the faster adoption of these platforms, the monetization had to happen but the core still remains the same.
The consistent growth of mob culture has made virtual life hell for quite a lot of celebrities and journalists. The spike in online trolling instances is a testimony to the over abuse of social media for disguised intentions. Driven by vendetta, the political online trolls have set out to destroy the beauty of this medium and to be honest they have been quite successful so far. The onus is on the responsible social media denizens to take a step forward to voice out their opinions against gamed trends which are planted for the benefits of specific political parties. If you are one of them, the best you could do
- Report instances of abuse, violence and trolling
- Verify information before forming an opinion
- Share the right information in your circles
- Educate people about the best and worst practices
Don’t allow political parties to occupy your mind space and influence you for the worst. Let’s focus on making Social Media great again!