Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book Review: ‘I am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army’ by Swati Chaturvedi

The name of this book made me understand more about the term ‘Troll’.  A message that someone leaves on the internet that is intended to annoy people is troll. Lacking logic and perhaps even decency, these most often nameless, faceless but sometimes wholly visible people attack those they don’t agree with.

I am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army is Swati Chaturvedi’s two year research. Her investigation as she calls it, is ‘inspired’ by her own experiences and those of her ‘fellow citizens’ who have been on the wrong side of trolling.

When any writer writes against the political party (BJP), which is not only ruling the country but came into power with huge majority and continuously spreading its presence in whole country, then, for sure, the writer is very courageous.

The veteran journalist, in this quick-read, maps out how some of the most venomous handles on Twitter are those that are ‘“Blessed to be followed by PM Modi”. The PM follows them, they follow him, and they also follow those who speak against him – attacking them at any given opportunity in what looks like a fully organised, coordinated game plan.  Through her conversations with BJP social media volunteers and Sadhavi Khosla (a former BJP social media cell member), the author takes us through how social media attacks are planned.

It reveals the BJP’s strong social media cell and its vast online support. Sadhavi Khosla claims that the BJP’s media cell pressurize the Snapdeal to drop Amir Khan is its brand ambassador after Amir’s strong comments about intolerance in 2015. Another undercover story states that the same unit trolled Shahrukh Khan and provoke its online support to boycott his movie Dilwale.
Ms Charurvedi alleges BJP for carrying out organized trolling on social media platforms to conveys a sense of the mood to the masses.

In her telling, the Bharatiya Janata Party (or the larger Sangh Parivar) uses volunteers and paid employees to function in concert and to execute centralised directives to “constantly peddle hate tweets and conspiracy theories and slander journalists”. Worse still, she claims, the hate-filled tweets are packed with communally volatile misinformation (a mythical exodus of Hindus from Kairana in UP, for instance) and contain threats: Hire so-and-so and we will boycott your company/paper/channel/product or  even worse.

Mr. Modi is followed some cyber bullies Twitter accounts (like LutynInsider, which I could not find on twitter. May be it got deleted after the row) that regularly tweet abusive language or obscenities, she claims. On the same note, Derek O’ Briain raised Ms Chaturvedi’s claims in the legislature, questioning why Mr Modi followed cyber-bullies.

Ankit Lal from AAP, who Chaturvedi says “tracks the ruling party’s social media as part of his work”, presents information on the same, casting doubts about how either the “BJP social media control centres have started using virtual private networks (VPNs) to hide their location and identity… The other possible explanation is that the BJP has hired a marketing agency in Thailand to do their online work.”

Moreover, this books gives the impression that BJP is the only single party that is using social media power to influence the behavior of the people which doesn’t seems a balanced view.  Other parties and people are let go scot-free, even when we know that everyone plays a dirty game – on Twitter and off it.

Huffington post  calls this book as a missed opportunity as of the seven short chapters that make up Swati Chaturvedi's work, almost entirely devoted to the testimony of Sadhavi Khosla, a former volunteer with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who has been responsible for the most explosive revelation in the book.  ‘While her mission to expose these trolls -- an army of men and women who thrive on misogyny, Islamophobia, hatred and bigotry -- is incredibly brave, urgent and necessary, the execution of the project could have been much better.’

On the factual front, I found little inconsistency in the facts; One, it was told I the book the flesh from the Akhlak’s home was not beef, which is incorrect. It was confirmed I the reports that the meat was found to be beef. Secondly, the picture is not black and white when she claims that Sadhavi Khosla  is the former volunteer with BJP as BJP denies the claim. Thirdly, with certainty, she says, Mr. Modi is handing its twitter accounts. It is very hard (but not certain) that the PM is so attached to his twitter account when he handles this by himself.

This book is less about trolls in general and more about what she claims is “the BJP’s digital army”. Chaturvedi has taken an interesting look at a topic of growing relevance to India and other democracies but should be researched without bias.

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