By Nanditha Sankar:
On last Tuesday, Cobrapost, an online investigative portal decided to pitch into the never-ending quagmire of controversies that surround us. It broke in a not-so-surprising news that all the blinding number of likes on Facebook by political parties, the followers on Twitter, the views on YouTube and infact, the online support base of any entity could be built from scratch by IT companies. By shelling out a few thousands of rupees, likes could be garnered, brownie points earned and the ball would be rolling in the favour of that party which sought such services.
What is surprising is that the very same tactics could be used to malign and slander other parties while hermetically sealing oneself from all sorts of negative publicity. All it took was some quick bucks and according to this Cobra Post operation, dramatically called “Operation Blue Virus”, there were more than a handful of customers who sought such services. Here are some things which the companies caught behind the lens claimed they could do:
– Create a good fan-following on Twitter, by buying packages of followers.
– Remove any negative comments that appear on a page of a party/company(such comments would be posted using proxy codes, offshore IPs, specially assigned computers that are discarded after they serve their purpose).
– Use Internet-based messaging system to circumvent TRAI regulations on mass SMS.
– Accept payments only in cash to avoid paper trail so that it couldn’t be traced back.
Even though one cannot vouch for the authenticity of their claims, we can atleast be assured that such a thing is quite possible. What matters next is whether such extensive campaigns are effective? Firstly, even if a political party/company were to get online support by paying money to people, it doesn’t in any way reflect their actual support base, does it? A million likes on Facebook does NOT mean that it will materialize into an equivalent number of votes. It could very well create an impression on the minds of naÃ¯ve, first-timers but for a responsible citizen , the last thing that would matter is the number of followers/likes.
The power of social media cannot be ignored at the same time. It is the much tried and tested idea of hitting at the mob and its psychology that it wields so powerfully. What Mark Antony craftily did, by turning the rabid Roman mob to his favor, the social media giants achieve, albeit indirectly. A single picture /video put out by a highly popular page ensures enough damage. Like as your neighbor does, being the motto of the day, one person after the other hits the Like/Retweet button and the domino effect continues.
Instead of fighting dirty wars over the online turf which contribute to only an iota of the population, if all these parties were to spend the same money on actual campaigning, venturing out into the heartlands of the country and taking time to solve issues, it would have made a considerable difference in their vote share.