As 2019 dawns at the Indian Subcontinent the media and the gossips are shrouded with the humdrum of the upcoming Loksabha election. These elections are peculiar in the sense that they are happening post-Cambridge Analytica scandal. Now Facebook is promising to own up for the elections but those are just promises. Technology in this case rather than acting as a liberator has become a propaganda machine.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to target smartphone-owning voters at the grassroots. More than 900,000 volunteers “cell phone pramukhs” are creating neighborhood-based WhatsApp groups to disseminate information about the BJP’s development achievements and prime minister Narendra Modi’s campaign activities. Meanwhile, the opposition Indian National Congress party is playing catch up with the launch of its “Digital Sathi” app and the appointment of their own volunteers to coordinate local digital campaigns.
But there’s a good reason to think the widespread popularity of WhatsApp in India could have a damaging effect on the election. For one thing, the recent state-level elections in India exposed how WhatsApp is being used to rapidly share messages intended to misinform voters for political gain.
Main Bhi Chowkidar:
Top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders prefixed the word “chowkidar” to their names on Twitter. The word in Hindi means watchman or guard. The prime minister’s personal handle is now “Chowkidar Narendra Modi” and the party president is “Chowkidar Amit Shah”.
The renaming comes a day after the BJP ran a “Main Bhi Chowkidar” campaign on Twitter, asking people to declare themselves guards for the nation battling “corruption, dirt, social evils”.
But who is watching the watchdogs as said by Chanakya “It is impossible to know when and how much water a fish drank, similar is the act of stealing government money by officials.”
Twitter has long been a platform to arouse controversy or influence the youth. There has been little to no restriction on tweets. Now the founder of Twitter is judging the effect of his creation.
While the political parties have a lot of weapons to wage war amounts themselves nothing comes close to social media. Its cost effective, creative and can instantly propagate their agenda across the country. These elections have given us a glimpse of the impact of technology on democracy. While it has brought us closer to our leaders it has given them greater control on our thoughts, choices, and preferences.
It is up to the disruptors, the next-gen startups to pave a way in which democracy can truly thrive. Can these technologies that are used by the political party serve their original purpose and liberate the voters from this propaganda.