It's not new to see the rises and falls of twitter trends and hashtags. But in recent times, leading up from last year, the BJP IT cell has come under the heavy radar of Twitter users.
Now for those of you wondering, the BJP IT cell is simply the information technology cell of the BJP party. But, when we look into the functioning and working of the cell, a few things become clear - for example, they manipulate algorithms and successfully create trends, fake news and Twitter storms.
What Does The BJP IT Cell Do?
In an interview with The Quint, Vikram Sharma, the co-admin cum editor of the page "NAMO", claimed - “I was made a content writer for the PMO India page two months ago after the party took notice of the reach of my posts. Now, the IT cell provides me content which I disseminate through Facebook and WhatsApp.” Sharma also claims to be a ‘Creative Writer’ for the Facebook page PMO India: Report Card and ‘Co-admin cum editor’ for BJP4UP.
"The first objective of the IT cell was automating the party. Before we got on to the voters and did voter relations, the party itself needed to be automated first. The second objective was to reach out to voters, the third was advising the party on IT policy matters." said Prodyut Bora, who set up the BJP’s IT Cell in 2007.
The BJP IT cell now, is the party's social media handler, for the most part of it. It doesn't directly handle accounts or tweets, but it does make sure that certain people tweet the hashtags and sentiments they want trending.
For example, during PM Modi's rally in 2019 at Delhi, a strange trend started on Twitter. Indian Olympic medalist Saina Nehwal tweeted, "I m hearing a thought-provoking speech from @narendramodi sir #RamlilaMaidan." Hundreds of other tweets poured in, with the exact same words and hashtags.
Prodyut Bora, the founder of this IT cell has now quit the cell stating - "I think it was the 2014 campaign. (that made me want to quit) During the 2014 campaign, the IT cell was being controlled and managed completely from Gandhinagar. It was being run by the Modi team and I think the rot started there. The formal head of the IT cell was there peripherally but the entire thing was Modi's team. So Team Modi started the rot."
What Has The IT Cell Become Now?
"You cannot fix the IT cell until you fix the party's president." Prodyut Bora said when asked how to fix the IT cell.
What started as an attempt at automating the BJP, and reaching out to voters has now become a hellish, nightmarish social media massacre. The BJP's IT cell was exposed in what was the biggest controversy last year, when Pratik Sinha, the co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews got his hands on an IT cell document.
He tweeted - " How do you get a Union Minister to tweet what you want? Well, you go and edit the trending document made by BJP IT cell, and then you control what they tweet. Thread. Here's the video of this morning when their trending document got automagically updated :-)" with a video attached to the tweet.
A document that reads "Trend Alert" with samples of several tweets to be copy-pasted on social media handles is seen. The document, otherwise "view-only" was left "open to edit" accidentally, and Pratik Sinha exposed the functioning of the IT cell.
In the video, we see changes being made to the prepared tweets. The additions/changes being made show the Narendra Modi government in a negative, embarrassing light. Here is a sample: "PM Modi took care of the needs of the richest section", "India jumped from 77nd to 142th [sic] ranking in Ease of Doing Business ranking", "Now transportation is expensive".
And this, Pratik Sinha shows, is how he made a Union Minister of the State, Pon Radhakrishnan tweet - "working for the middle class is low on the agenda" of the Narendra Modi government. A similarly embarrassing post was also tweeted by the BJP's Assam unit, a screenshot posted by Sinha showed.
Unfortunately, the tweets have been deleted ever since, but the screenshots remain. The tweets were only deleted after Pratik Sinha publically tweeted the role of his interference with the document.
"It's like Frankenstein's monster," Bora stated, and of late the number of copy-pasted tweets and hashtags seem to bring some truth to his statement.
Why The Practices Of The Cell Show Us Just How Bad The Political Scene Is
In a video posted by Dhruv Rathee, titled "BJP IT Cell Exposed: How lies and propaganda are spread" he explains how certain PR agencies and corporate agencies get paid to blindly copy-paste the sample tweets sent in by the IT cell.
It's unnerving to know that several accounts tweet these hashtags and trends blindly, with no fact checks or personal opinions, simply for the money. Politics is not a separate practice or unit, it is one of the people and for the people, to allow a mass spur of fake news, unreliable opinions and terrible statistics is playing with the constitution.
The practice, that now seems to be such a common, normalized effort at making sure the voices of dissent or contrasting opinions aren't heard is disturbing. Real people of the country have their voices muted by the large population that is blindly voicing empty opinions for the money.
Pratik Sinha's attempt at exposing the working of the cell has certainly helped people stay more aware, but the IT cell doesn't seem to be shaken at all. They continue to spread false news and they do it at the expense of the country.
In Prodyut Bora's own words, the BJP IT cell can certainly be compared to Frankenstein's monster.