Last week an interesting sting titled #operationbluevirus was presented before Indian media by an investigative portal named cobrapost in an elaborate press conference covered live by few channels. The sting through a series of secretly filmed discussions tried to build up a case that social media in India was being controlled and manipulated by select IT firms and it wasn’t really as independent as it seemed. From fake followers, fake likes to running online propaganda in favor of or against political parties or their candidates, IT firms seem to do all that for a fixed sum as per the sting. The sting tries to insinuate that most if not all of those IT firms are working in favor of BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who has tremendous following and support on social media. A hype was being built up about the expose on twitter and the hashtag #operationbluevirus remained the top trend on twitter India for two days. Ironically managing trends is something the sting accuses IT firms of doing.
For those who are technical enough, the sting isn’t really a revelation. Internet is a free medium and everyone with either genuine or motivated intentions has an equally open platform to communicate. While Modi is a dominant force on social media, other parties have their fair share of real or fake followers as well. Recently, few of congress party representatives were found to be running facebook profiles with more than 80% followers from Turkey which is not possible unless you have someone managing your followers.AAP party is known to trend party favoring hashtags almost each night which again hints of some sort of management.
Sting operations are tools that investigative journalists use to highlight issues, redressal of which, benefit the society. In a country of 1.2 Billion plagued by rampant corruption, human trafficking, child abuse, failing government schemes and a lot more, the cobrapost chose to do a sting on social media trying to expose what is common knowledge, makes me question their motivation. What was achieved by this sting is not clear, not unless you look at the chain of events and background of stinger in this case.
Cobrapost is headed by one Aniruddha Bahal who co founded Tehelka a magazine known for several stings and its negative bias against BJP and other Hindu nationalist groups. His claim to fame is a sting known as operation west-end which implicated BJP national president Bangaru Laxman for taking a bribe of 1 Lac rupees. He has recently released a taped conversation from 2006 between Amit Shah, then Home minister in Modi’s cabinet and GL Singhal a senior police officer in Gujarat. The conversation is a discussion about police monitoring of a lady which BJP claims was for the lady’s protection at her father’s behest. However, a major controversy has been made out of the tape by ruling congress party. Its important to note that the tape was with CBI and it wouldn’t have been possible for cobrapost to get it without some official help.
It is a common knowledge that ruling dispensation in New Delhi is getting increasingly uncomfortable with Modi’s rising popularity in country. Social media has had a great role in Modi’s rise. Congress government has been known to control the main stream media through advisories and doles however, social media has been very vocal in exposing government’s failures and various scams. Anna’s Janlokpal movement, Nirbhaya incident and recent Tehelka sex scandal were all entirely driven by social media forcing the main stream media to cover it leaving congress government red faced. Congress government seems to resent the lack of control over social media. India in 2012 proposed a ‘Committee for Internet Related Policies’ (CIRP) in UN in a move to transfer the control of Internet to governments. Domestically, work has already started on National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC) which will have wide ranging powers to snoop over internet communications. Utterances from various congress ministers and PM indicate they’re determined to setup control over Internet communications. Latest Google transparency report shows India is now the second nation in world in terms of volume of requests for user data and content removal most of which are critical of government policies and the dynasty.
It’s easy to see that a journalist with anti Modi bias who has made a career out of sting operations shares a common ground with a government resenting social media for its pro Modi stand and known for rewarding Modi baiters. In light of above the most probable motivation for the sting seems to please the ruling dispensation. With 2014 nearing the nervous congress is only going to resort to more desperate measures.