I am a troll is a look inside the digital army of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an army that is known to incite hate and communal tension through the internet. The book provides an in-depth understanding of how and why certain hate driven messages trends or spread on various social media platforms.
The book also raises questions about the direct or indirect links of the ruling party, with these so called “masked” people on the social media platform such as Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp etc.
Social Media was a central factor in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s win in the 2014 election. The head of the BJP’s IT cell headed Arvind Gupta operates out of BJP’s Headquarters at 11, Ashoka Road, Delhi. This cell decides and ensures the trending of certain hashtags on the social media platforms. They do it with the help of paid/unpaid volunteers and also outsource the work to small scale IT industries. Trained by the RSS in using social media, the party has created a bank of thousands of dormant twitter accounts when the verification process was less stringent.
“BJP uses them for their storms of synchronised tweeting. They also have bots controlled by the party’s central IT Cell which tweet out identical messages simultaneously. These are algorithms acting in social media networks which to the outside world look like a real user,” Swati Chaturvedi says in her book.
The author has placed multiple examples of such bots as images in the book, tweeting out the exact same message and at the exact same time bracket, making it easy to believe that in fact these are not real people but mere social media algorithms which are spreading the agenda of the ruling party.
The author has also interviewed volunteers of the party who are famous and known abusers on the internet to understand why they harass and target specific people on the internet. What is surprising is that these trolls sometimes seem to have only a basic understanding of politics and yet are aware of who supports and who does not support the BJP, only as an insider would. Obviously, there are instructions being handed down to them from the IT Cell to target a certain person and they follow that command. Some of these volunteers do believe in the Hindutva ideology, while others may have their own non-political reasons to follow the commands of the party.
The author has also pointed out as to how Prime Minister Modi himself follows some of these trolls on social media – people who are known to given rape and death threats to not only journalists but also anyone who dares to speak against the ruling government.
Interestingly, with the help of various screenshots as evidence, the author has shown how the IT Cell of the party was responsible for the attack hashtags which were trending on social media against actor Amir Khan and Snapdeal.
There is an IT Cell or IT Shakha at the district level set up by the BJP, for recruiting volunteers to be on high election alert. Expenditure on social media need not be disclosed to the EC in an election campaign. More so, with next to free internet being provided to the nation today, it becomes highly accessible.
The digital India campaign seem to have a two-fold purpose for the BJP. These shakas give trainings to people on how to use social media. There are agendas and goals set for the day and a dedicated network of individuals tasked with the function to achieve those goals of spreading messages or responding to posts that they believe have criticised their party. And the nature of those messages usually take the form of fake news or threats.
With the no-holds-barred election campaign taking over lives, Swati Chaturvedi’s book, though released a while back, shows us how unfettered social media is, how to recognise a bot from an individual and to quite simply be warned of the faceless but tutored troll who will ravage you should you have the gumption to criticise the ruling party and its Prime Minister.