Unless you were blind as a dead bat, it was obvious that there was something murky behind Narendra Modi‘s sudden and obscene embrace of digital technology while resurrecting himself.
After all, the BJP is a party which sees its future in the past. In the bizarre universe it inhabits, Lord Ganesha is a sign of plastic surgery; the Pushpaka Vimana a precursor to Boeing and Airbus.
Closer home, the Pradhan Sevak’s bear hug with Google, Facebook and Twitter—when China was booting them out—ran counter to the swadeshi blood coursing through the veins of a lapsed RSS ‘pracharak’.
And, once in power, the red carpet rolled out to the tech titans; meeting Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai as if they were god’s gifts to Bharat; and the free run the companies enjoyed in Lutyens Delhi gave enough room for doubt.
# Had APCO, Modi’s image consultants, enlisted the help of digital and social firms to buy likes, followers, trolls, bots to build his new profile?
# Were these companies working behind the scenes to shape policies, to stump their rivals, in the process changing the political landscape?
# Was it now “payback time”, for changing his reputation, installing him in power, and crushing his rivals?
# Was there anything natural in the intolerance, hatred, abuse, bigotry, misogyny that was the new normal?
These questions, which were bread and butter—or parantha and desi ghee if you are a bhakt—for conspiracy theorists (which strangely included the sangh parivar’s forgotten angels like K.N. Govindacharya) are now legit.
Bloomberg has a piece up titled “How Facebook’s political unit enables the dark art of digital propaganda“, with a strapline that reads: “Some of Unit’s clients stifle opposition, stoke extremism”.
And lo, ROFLMAO and behold: Narendra Modi’s pre- and post-election dalliance with FB figures prominently in it.
#The unit actively works with political parties and leaders including those who use the platform to stifle opposition—sometimes with the aid of “troll armies” that spread misinformation and extremist ideologies.
# The initiative is run by a little-known Facebook global government and politics team that’s neutral in that it works with nearly anyone seeking or securing power.
# The unit is led from Washington by Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist who worked on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Since Facebook hired Harbath three years later, her team has traveled the globe helping political clients use the company’s powerful digital tools.
# In some of the world’s biggest democracies—from India and Brazil to Germany and the U.K.—the unit’s employees have become de facto campaign workers. And once a candidate is elected, the company in some instances goes on to train government employees or provide technical assistance for live streams at official state events.
# While Facebook declined to give the size of its politics unit, one executive said it can expand to include hundreds during the peak of an election, drawing in people from the company’s legal, information security and policy teams.
# At meetings with political campaigns, members of Harbath’s team sit alongside Facebook advertising sales staff who help monetize the often viral attention stirred up by elections and politics. They train politicians and leaders how to set up a campaign page and get it authenticated with a blue verification check mark, how to best use video to engage viewers and how to target ads to critical voting blocs.
# In India, the company helped develop the online presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who now has more Facebook followers than any other world leader.
# By the time of India’s 2014 elections, Facebook had for months been working with several campaigns. Modi relied heavily on Facebook and WhatsApp to recruit volunteers who in turn spread his message on social media. Since his election, Modi’s Facebook followers have risen to 43 million, almost twice Trump’s count.
# Within weeks of Modi’s election, Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg both visited the nation as it was rolling out a critical free internet service that the government later curbed. Harbath and her team have also traveled there, offering a series of workshops and sessions that have trained more than 6,000 government officials.
# As Modi’s social media reach grew, his followers increasingly turned to Facebook and WhatsApp to target harassment campaigns against his political rivals. India has become a hotbed for fake news, with one hoax story this year that circulated on WhatsApp leading to two separate mob beatings resulting in seven deaths.
# The nation has also become an increasingly dangerous place for opposition parties and reporters. In the past year, several journalists critical of the ruling party have been killed. Hindu extremists who back Modi’s party have used social media to issue death threats against Muslims or critics of the government.
Facebook’s role in changing the Indian political landscape is now on record. Next year’s Ramnath Goenka award winners merely need to fill the blanks to show us Google’s role.
Read the full story: How FB’s political unit enables the dark art of political propaganda