In a recent attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said the saffron party has mastered the art of influencing voters via social media platforms. WhatsApp has been their favourite medium in Lok Sabha elections, because the platform has a massive reach, Tharoor said.
"The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the master of this technique, running an estimated half-million WhatsApp groups across the country. Its IT cell head, Amit Malviya, declared in March that, 'The upcoming elections will be fought on the mobile phone ...In a way, you could say they would be WhatsApp elections'," Tharoor said.
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"The BJP benefits from vast armies of people, some paid and some volunteers, whose job is to feed the voracious appetites of these WhatsApp groups," the Congress Party leader claimed.
A political party, Tharoor stressed, "can create groups defined by their interests, caste, or religious identity, or by a specific issue or cause, and bombard them with messages to reinforce their biases and convince them the party is with them".
A recent by online startup Social Media Matters and New Delhi-based Institute for Governance, Policies and Politics has revealed that one in two Indians receives fake news via Facebook and WhatsApp. This comes despite Facebook claims of removing 10 lakh fake accounts a day in India.
Facebook and WhatsApp are the leading platforms being used to disseminate misinformation. The survey stated that 96 per cent of the sample population received fake news via WhatsApp.
According to Tharoor, "Twitter, the most 'political' of social media, has only 30 million active users in India. It is dwarfed by Facebook and WhatsApp, with over 240 million active users each".
Given parliamentary constituencies of some two million people each, Twitter is of little help in political mobilisation.
"Unlike the US, Twitter would be useless for organising a mass rally, or even convening a large public meeting. It cannot be a substitute for conventional campaigning."
"Nonetheless, political parties have been turning to social media extensively this year," Tharoor wrote.
Media reports last week claimed how political activists and digital marketers are bypassing restrictions on forwards by using counterfeit versions of the popular messaging app and other software tools costing as little as Rs 1,000.
WhatsApp said it had sent cease and desist letters to companies claiming to offer such services.