When Kavita Krishnan, one of the leading Indian mainstream left leaders, flagged a rape threat on her Facebook in August 2018, the platform refused to take any action saying that the comment didn’t violate its “community standards”. It was asked whether Facebook would’ve shown similar apathy if a woman leader of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would’ve faced a similar ordeal? No, Facebook wouldn’t have afforded to overlook such a complaint from the other side. The reason behind this hypocrisy is an unofficial Facebook-BJP alliance in India. Recently, this has become news.
Though a recent investigative report on Facebook-BJP alliance, published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), has appalled the Indian liberals, it didn’t surprise those who have been accusing Facebook of being a pawn and vessel of Hindutva fascism and its sponsors in India. The upheaval over the WSJ findings on Facebook-BJP alliance discombobulates the common people and misrepresents facts. The hullaballoo over these revelations, especially over Facebook’s India policy head Ankhi Das’s unapologetic support for the BJP’s digital hatemongering machinery, is uncalled for. Facebook is exactly doing what it’s supposed to do.
Facebook’s business and the social media’s customers
Though Facebook is often presented as a transparent public platform, which its India head Ajit Mohan reiterated, while addressing the controversy sparked by the WSJ findings, it’s actually a privately-owned, data collection, target marketing and surveillance system that the big corporations and the fascist regimes around the world are using for data mining and snooping. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t found Facebook to serve humanity but earn a profit, and all users of the platform are bound by its terms and conditions. They agree to be turned into commodities and sold to big corporate houses and governments.
Driven by an appetite for profiteering, Facebook will go any length to satisfy its customers, especially the big corporations and the governments. Therefore, it indulges in rampant data stealing and selling to the highest bidders. This is one of the reasons that Facebook was penalised by the US’s Federal Trade Commission for its unscrupulous activities. But in India, it operates with utmost impunity and in 2019 its revenue has grown by 26%, quarter-by-quarter.
Facebook controls what information is shown to each user, and this makes it a lucrative place for advertisers and political opinion-makers. Its ability to impact––far-reaching and global––the political opinion of its billions of users makes it the most preferred media partner for the sclerotic fascist regimes around the world to push their propaganda. The Facebook-BJP alliance in India is similar to the company’s alliance with fascist Donald Trump’s regime in the US, Jair Bolsonaro’s fascist regime in Brazil, etc. India, the US and Brazil, apart from sharing the top slots globally in COVID-19 infection, also share the top slots in terms of Facebook users.
Calling such an obfuscate platform, driven by sheer greed for profit and which has an obnoxious agenda, a space for free speech is political debauchery of the highest order. The shameless wailing over WSJ’s revelation and accusing Facebook of wrongdoings for its alliance with the BJP is ridiculous as well as a signage of political vacillation, quintessential of liberal democrats. No amount of their wailing will stop Zuckerberg’s profiteering.
Modi’s love for technology and tectonic shift in BJP’s IT policies
Among his contemporaries, Modi remained a pioneer in using information technology (IT). Salvaging the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)––the BJP’s parent body––from its parochial pit during his chief ministership in Gujarat, he effectively initiated IT-driven fascist programmes and leveraged the internet to build an image that would attract corporate houses.
During the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, Modi’s leadership helped the RSS and its offshoots to upgrade targeted massacre of Muslims using databases like voters’ list. Though the same strategy was first adopted by the Congress party during the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 in Delhi, the 2002 Gujarat pogrom was a far sophisticated version adopted by Modi. Apart from using technology in executing a pogrom, Modi used technology to exclude a large number of poor from availing welfare benefits, and also to share the land map with corporates.
During a video conference organised by internet giant Google––a CIA outfit to snoop on people’s behaviour in the cyberspace––in March 2013, Modi called the internet a game-changer and, literally, the BJP, under him and his lieutenant Amit Shah, leveraged upon the internet to change how political campaigning, narrative setting and propaganda is carried out in India.
While the BJP launched its IT Cell in 2007, way ahead of other political parties, to run online campaigns and to automate the party’s functioning, the body became a dreaded force after its control was taken over by Modi’s men. With his lieutenant Shah, Modi began using the social media vigorously to set narratives and pulverize all opposition. It appealed to and weaned away the technocrats and professionals belonging to the upper-caste Hindu elite and middle-class sections from the Congress and other right-wing outfits.
Following his landslide victory in 2014, riding high tides of Islamophobic bigotry and Hindutva fascist rhetoric, which capitalised upon the discontent caused by the utmost corrupt and brutal 10-year-long Congress party’s rule, Modi and Shah elevated hate mongering, communal polarisation using bush telegraphs and fake news peddling to an industrial scale. The BJP’s fortune grew manifold as India’s big crony-comprador capitalists and their foreign corporate masters liberally filled its coffer. The RSS also mobilised its men to digitally upgrade themselves and consolidate the Hindutva fascist agenda of restructuring the Indian state.
Despite building a hallow of invincibility, Modi knew that to ensure a constant permeating of the RSS’s propaganda throughout India and to consolidate the “greater Hindu” vote bank by amalgamating BJP’s traditional upper-caste vote bank with the lower-caste and Dalit vote banks, as well as to expand the scope of communal polarisation throughout India, especially in Hindutva fascism’s laboratories like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka, there is a need to expand the internet user base in India.
Modi knew that if the internet user base is increased, not only will the BJP-RSS benefit politically, but the corporate masters of the party will also benefit as the government will be able to neutralise dissent against corporate aggression, reduce subsidies by inter-linking welfare benefits with Aadhaar and pushing for e-solutions that a majority of the poor can’t avail.
Moreover, with the help of a large internet user base, the government can map the citizens, carry out surveillance on them, trace threats of discontent and subjugate the mass opinion through a gush of vitriolic propaganda. The plan of the Modi regime to implement the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) to snatch citizenship rights of the poor according to Section 14(A) of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, could be easily achieved with the help of a large internet user base.
To achieve these goals, Modi launched his Digital India campaign in 2015 and marketed the concept to the tycoons of IT world in the US’s Silicon Valley, during his official visit. It was here that Facebook owner Zuckerberg, whose platform has been providing enough momentum to the BJP since 2012-13, joined hands officially with Modi. But this wasn’t alone about Zuckerberg, Modi’s BJP got Twitter, Google and other internet giants on its board for Digital India.
The man who benefitted the most from this campaign is none else but Modi’s biggest sponsor, Mukesh Ambani. Recently, Ambani became the sixth richest man in the world, surpassing the Google founders and Elan Musk, thanks to the investments his flagship 5G project Jio Platforms received from Facebook and Google.
The economics behind the Facebook-BJP alliance in India
While the political goal behind the Digital India campaign has been the total consolidation of citizen data and expanding the scope of snooping and surveillance on the common people to nip in the bud any potential threat to the Hindutva fascist hegemony, the economic goal has been to enrich the likes of Ambani and big foreign corporations selling gadgets, phones and chips in India.
After allowing Ambani’s Jio 4G to disrupt India’s telecom sector using a despicable strategy and by weakening the state-owned BSNL, which was denied a 4G license, the Modi regime allowed free phone calls and cheap data the lucrative baits to lure a large number of consumers to the treacherous digital space. India’s internet user tally is estimated at 574m at present and it’s expected to grow to 639m, with the aid of Ambani’s Jio, which is building a massive internet empire in the country with nearly 1.38 billion people.
The Facebook-BJP alliance was formed on the Modi government’s promise of a huge profit to the US-based company. Its investment in Ambani’s Jio 5G project, along with Google and others, is driven by the urge of Zuckerberg to exploit the Indian market to maximise profit. At the government level, Modi has made Facebook, along with Twitter, an indispensable tool of governance, which helped the platform to expand its user base, the very users it sells to the highest bidders.
Apart from these, the BJP’s Facebook spending through a host of proxy outfits like the consultancy firm ABM, which runs the Facebook pages that publish virulence-driven content, translate into immense profit for the platform. While Facebook earned Rs 100mbetween February and March 2019 from political ads, BJP accounted for more than 70% of that amount.
With such a huge financial interest, the Facebook-BJP alliance has outmanoeuvred the opposition parties, including India’s grand old Congress party, which, despite having a social media team, can’t match the firepower of the BJP. To ensure that the BJP remains happy and that its business interests in Ambani’s Jio Platforms remain secure, Facebook won’t take any anti-BJP decision. This is the most normal for an outfit like itself. Trolling its policy head Das for her reluctance to act against a BJP stalwart in Telangana misses out the real intricacies, especially between India’s richest man and the social media platform that threaten people with manipulation of opinion.
The WhatsApp story strengthened Facebook-BJP nexus
If there is one platform that’s vigorously used by the BJP and the RSS for mass communication and propaganda, then it’s WhatsApp, the popular internet messaging app bought by Facebook in 2014. Though the BJP began using the platform since 2013, especially during the Muzaffarnagar anti-Muslim pogrom to spread misinformation, it became a strong weapon in the hands of the Modi regime after 2014. WhatsApp has helped the BJP IT Cell to percolate the vitriol to the grassroots with absolute ease.
With more than 400m active monthly users, WhatsApp is a cornerstone in the Facebook-BJP alliance. Recent revelations regarding the Delhi anti-Muslim pogrom of 2020 show how the messaging app was used by the perpetrators of violence to coordinate activities. WhatsApp has provided a large-scale snooping net to the Modi regime, which not even the Facebook platform can. Recently the Delhi Police charged activists protesting against the Modi’s citizenship matrix based on their simple WhatsApp communication.
One of the brightest sides of this collaboration and the BJP’s incessant pushing of fake news and narratives is that many people have stopped believing in WhatsApp forwards. Still, in vulnerable states like Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, WhatsApp forwards can easily tempt the receivers and intensify communal hatred. However, instead of cracking on the hate crime peddlers, Facebook has only stopped instant forwarding to more than five persons. This measure didn’t help in containing the spread of fake news at all.
Facebook is trying to popularise the WhatsApp payment gateway in India so that it can become a virtual bank also. The Facebook-BJP alliance and the company’s 10% share in Ambani’s Jio Platforms will make the WhatsApp pay an omnipotent method and through it, Zuckerberg’s company will be able to tap on people’s finances, buying habits, buying intervals and use artificial intelligence to market more products and services to them, breaching their privacy.
Data: The cement in the Facebook-BJP alliance in India
Recently, the Modi regime has published the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy, which is too weak to defend Indian people’s data security needs. With almost no efforts taken to educate the millions of internet users about their right to privacy, the Indian data protection law in making can be the most obnoxious one in the world, which would sell people’s data to big corporates and the government without their consent.
Though Modi discussed data security with Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, over video conference, it’s his government that’s attacking the very foundation of the data security concept. The Data Protection Bill attacks the rights of the users and is intended to sell the private information of users to big corporate houses, the principal goal of Modi’s Digital India campaign. As this Bill breaches the right to privacy, upheld by the Supreme Court, the Modi regime is keen to keep it away from public scrutiny.
After Ambani said “data is the new oil” in January 2019, and stressed on monopolising the data trade of Indian users, the Modi regime obliged by pushing the obnoxious Data Protection Bill. Later, when Facebook raised opposition to Ambani’s attempt to totally control the data trading of Indian internet users with the incessant expansion of Jio, the BJP became a meddler between the two and brought them closer by opening the gateways to the $5.7 billion deal. In doing this, of course, the intervention of Trump became necessary, which happened after Ambani met the US president during his India tour and explained to him how his Jio Platforms will be countering Chinese Huawei.
With Ambani’s Jio Platforms, Facebook and Google coming together, it will be a gala moment. Not only will the party control the dominant political narrative and the government be able to snoop on people as per its whims, but it will also help them to disenfranchise a section of the population without doing physical verification and without facing people’s movements. The major entity that Jio Platforms will become in the days to come, will eventually strengthen the Modi regime’s iron fist.
Political implications of Facebook-BJP alliance in India
Recently, one of Modi’s ministers defended Facebook in an op-ed published in The Indian Express. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore called for defending free speech from the Congress party and the left. However, he didn’t mention that the Modi regime has been cracking the whip on any dissenter criticising the government or its agenda on social media.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp suffered a Zionist terrorist spyware attack, which was used by the Zionists to snoop on anti-BJP activists in India. When WhatsApp admitted the breach it created a ruckus, but no one was ever found guilty of the crime and the Modi regime refused to investigate the matter, as it would connect the threads with Modi and Shah. The entire case is now brushed under the carpet with the peddling of new narratives.
Apart from gagging dissent on social media and arresting scores of activists on false charges of sedition, the Modi regime has mainstreamed fake news propagation. Though the Indian Parliament’s upper-house debated the concern of social media being used to peddle fake news, the BJP remained unapologetic. Not just the Facebook-BJP alliance is used to amplify BJP’s voice vis-à-vis that of its opponents, the party is also using Modi’s cult app called Narendra Modi App to propagate fake news.
Under severe pressure, Facebook took down a couple of pages related to the BJP from the platform before the 2019 Lok Sabha election. These pages, however, were removed due to “inauthentic behaviour” and not for the fake news and hatred spread through them. This purge also took down several pages owned by the Congress party’s team. Despite this purge, the Facebook-BJP alliance wasn’t affected as the party maintained many proxy pages and millions of WhatsApp groups to control the dominant narrative.
Due to the strong Facebook-BJP alliance, it’s impossible for any opponent of the BJP and the Modi regime to amplify their content on the platform or combat the menace of hate-mongering and fake news peddling, which BJP has mastered. The organised army of the BJP-RSS, working round-the-clock to peddle misinformation and incite susceptible minds with communal vitriol can’t be matched by other political forces if they try to imitate the model as they can’t spend the money the BJP can to maintain such an infrastructure.
Rather than lamenting over Facebook-BJP alliance, the real opponents of the Modi regime and Hindutva fascism must dive deeper to find an alternative avenue to spearhead their campaign and tear apart the Hindutva fascist narrative peddled through the popular social media platforms. Innovative alternative solutions, from providing alternative news and analysis to people at the grassroots through an easy-to-access media platform, educating people politically to organising them with a single goal to bring about a political transformation should be deployed to build counter-narratives. Unless the right to create dominant narratives is taken away from the BJP, unless the people are informed through incessant counter-propaganda how their lives and livelihoods are under threat due to the corporate appeasement policies of the Modi regime, it won’t be possible to resist the Hindutva fascist juggernaut using cowardly wailing of liberals and their cabal. It’s only the people’s unity and struggles against neo-liberal economic order that can defeat the Hindutva fascist bloc and its partners like Facebook, Google or Reliance Jio.