Name of the Book: I am a Troll: Inside the secret world of the BJPs digital army
Author: Swati Chaturvedi
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
An earlier article titled ‘Saffron heads with Neutral masks: Spreading disharmony through Social Media’ argued that the Social media spaces are being increasingly used by right wing groups to promote messages of hatred, bigotry and fanaticism. It was also pointed out that these are aimed at creating ‘manufactured consent’ towards promoting right wing ideologies. Applying Chomsky’s framework to the world of Social media, it was argued that these are owned by political groups leaning towards BJP. However, there was no direct evidence provided about the linkages.
The latest book by Swati Chaturvedi breaks this. It delves into the secret world of BJP’s digital army and exposes it inside out. Basing on investigative journalism, the book shows how the internet trolls through usage of twitter accounts use abusive, communal and sexually loaded messages and try to crush dissent voices. It brings out the BJP connection of the online trolls.
The book is spread across five chapters. The first chapter questions as to how come the internet trolls with tendency for inflammatory messages and usage of threats are followed by the Prime Minister and even rewarded. The second chapter shows the BJP connection and discusses the BJP’s social media cell and nature of its operations. It also deals with confessions made by Sadhavi Khosla, a former volunteer in BJPs Social media cell. The third chapter discusses the profile of a few internet trolls. The fourth chapter shows trends such as usage of Modi hashtags emanating even from abroad through usage of private networks, usage of threats with e-commerce firms and utilisation of fake twitter accounts and photo-shop to discredit opponents. The fifth chapter deals with RSS connection and its history in usage of Social media.
The author expresses concern with the fact that in a Democracy, a culture of right wing harassment goes unpunished. On the contrary it even gets encouraged. The online abuse of political opponents is quite common. This is more so in the case of women with liberal political opinions who are at the receiving end of sexually loaded abuse. The trolls directly engage in the propagation of right wing ideology which incites hatred. An instance is that of a tweeter Rahul raj owning right wing propaganda website OpIndia which have such hatred filled and factually manipulated content. Swati expresses concern that the abusers described as “Yodhas”, are followed by the Prime Minister and even felicitated. This is despite the fact that they make death threats with special attention to women, minorities and dalits and with names such as ‘proud hindu’, ‘garvit hindu’ and ‘bharat mata ki jai’.
There are recurring topics of trolls. Cow slaughters, love jihad are some of them. Often one comes across their accepted abuse such as ‘go to pakistan’, particularly against those with alternative political opinion. The author states this is a direct result of Prime Minister following the online abusers and is an example of ‘trickle down’ effect on ministers.
Though BJP started using social media since l995, its usage got a boost with its 272+ campaign through the Social media cell. The campaign which began in a war mode continued to be the same even after that. Now it functions as a PR agency. Arvind Gupta, head of BJP IT cell sends out instruction to large network of social media workers who are paid workers with a tweet agenda for the day. Thousands of dormant twitter accounts are created. They engage in the task of praising the Prime Minister or abusing the opponents.
The story of Sadhvi Khosla, young entrepreneur and former volunteer in BJPs Social media cell is described. Coming from a family of traditional congress supporters, Khosla was convinced with the BJP propaganda. She joined the National Digital Operations Centre (NDOC), the party social media cell for Mission 272+ campaign. As media volunteer she was one among the volunteers given a ‘hit list’ of journalists to be attacked which included Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt. Any unfavourable mention of Modi, digital tracking tools would pick up and hyena like trolls would descend. The propaganda against Gandhi family and cartoons emerged in NDOC. The expanded list included anyone perceived as anti-Modi. The usage of abuse, rape threats against female journalists, death threats suffocated Khosla. The act of attack on Khans – Shah Rukh and Amir during intolerance debate affected her deeply. Instruction for whatsapp message for attacking them for being Muslims could not be resisted by her and she quit.
Swati describes the profile of social media volunteers. They are in their early twenties to late thirties. They carry strong Hindutva leanings. They formed voter base from ‘neo-middle class’. They are tech savvy but poor in English speaking skills and appeared extremely frustrated that they are unable to communicate their views about Muslims and their plans to destroy the country.
The author also points to instances of attacks on e-commerce companies. One instance was the call to boycott Myntra for using Hindu mythological symbols in its ads. Snap deal was pressurised to give up Amir Khan as the brand ambassador. It is pointed that the hate messages that get generated online get converted into offline physical attacks. A similar instance was seen when Kanhaiya Kumar and journalists were beaten up.
Swati states that something in BJP DNA makes it more receptive to the darker side of social media world. This includes its constant campaign mode and its RSS connection, which is communal. RSS saw in social media a way to reach people. She expresses fear that social media usage for ideological and socially divisive purposes may lead to more caste and communal violence. It may become a bigger monster in the process of attacking all those who do not subscribe to its world view. She cautions that it is time we opened our eyes to the dangers ahead.
The book is a worth reading for those interested in issues of Social Media and its usage by Right wing groups. The book is highly descriptive and factual with a lot of illustrations and examples provided to state the opinion of the author and explain the inside functioning of BJPs digital army.
T. Navin did his M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). He works as a Researcher in an NGO.