By Sushil Kutty
Is it possible to fix Indian elections using data from Facebook? It depends funnily enough on who wins, and which party loses! Post-2014, chances that Facebook data helped was certain; post-Bihar gatbandhan, the view was the opposite – ‘no, hardly likely’. Post-Donald Trump’s election, ‘you’re damn right’; Ditto Brexit – the ‘leavers’ raided FB with help from Cambridge Analytica cat burglars.
Trump it appears is not bothered. He is behaving like he never heard of Cambridge Analytica, like he doesn’t have the millions of followers on Facebook. His (trade) war is with China. The US mainstream media is also not that concerned, satisfied that porn-star Stormy Daniels will castrate Trump’s presidency, give her time, “She’s got his number!”; why bother with Cambridge Analytica and that Wylie-chap, Nix him Alexander the Great!
The storm is in India, with the ‘eye’ shifting from the Congress to the BJP and vice versa. And if stories posted on Facebook are to be believed the data-mining shebang was designed and perfected by Alexander Nix in the dusty bowl of India’s electoral landscape, specifically in the constituency known as Gautam Buddha Nagar (GBN) bordering Delhi and of which Noida is a segment.
The stiff-upper lip Alexander Nix and team, before they set up Cambridge Analytica, studied voters of GBN, conversing with them through local translators, video-graphing the voters to study their facial expressions, to see if they were “lying”; all this to benefit current BJP minister for Culture Mahesh Sharma, who had at that time lost an election and wanted to know why.
Accompanying Nix to the Gujjar-stronghold was a Romanian associate who taught JD (U) leader KC Tyagi’s son Amrish Tyagi and a certain ‘Rai’, another Nix-protégé, much of what he knows of mining data, harvesting votes. KC Tyagi, a rather earnest-sounding politician, came out the other day and said if he his son was “guilty” please lynch him. Like his name suggests KC is a Tyagi!
The question remains: Is it possible to fix Indian elections using stolen Facebook data? As happens in any multi-polar society, there are two sides to what’s in currency, a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’. The ‘yes-stringers’, while asserting it’s very much possible to use Facebook data to influence voters, say that India must act urgently to prevent the possibility even though it is a little too late in the day to prevent such a possibility!
Smart response! That’s because the proof was already there: FB data was mined and used to influence the 2016 US Presidential election; sway the Brexit vote and fix elections in countries in Africa. Now, whispers of the 2014 Indian general elections getting mined are all over the place with mention of a ‘Gujarati accent from the US’ descending on GBN to get a look at facial expressions.
The yes-stringers say it is possible to use FB data to influence Indian elections because India doesn’t have a data protection law. Therefore, anything that Cambridge Analytica does in India will be perfectly legal. Looks and sounds like a clean chit to both the Congress and the BJP, both of who charge each other with the crime of being in bed with Cambridge Analytica.
That said, both the parties appear on the same page. Like they do on the controversial 100 percent salary hike to legislators. No differences there – Kaam Khatam, Paisa Vasool. At the end of the day, left or right they are bedfellows, and bedfellows have to be ‘opposite’ to make the best of the bed!
Till before Cambridge Analytican Christopher Wylie broke rank and blew the whistle on Nix & Co., both the BJP and the Congress were comfortable with their silent complicity in harvesting FB data to win elections. Goes to show that the Page 3 bonding and a nephew in one party and a niece in the other party pretty much works like a well-appointed halfway home and sums up membership in the ‘Rulers Club’.
The Supreme Court has asked the government to frame an “omnibus data protection law” but Parliament is sitting on the recommendation, says the ‘yes’ lot. They warn that Indians because they are mostly “media illiterate” are sitting ducks for data harvesting. “They cannot read the fine print,” so goes the argument. Besides there’s this thing called WhatsApp to breach the rural firewall!
The ‘no can’t influencers’ say that despite “25%of Facebook users, 29% WhatsApp users and 12% Twitter users”, it is still difficult to fix/Nix Indian elections because the majority of Indians are on Social Media to stay connected with family and friends, not to transmit political messages. This lot also cites the “rural” angle but only to claim immunity from Social Media influence – the rural Indian voter can only be reached through rallies, roadshows and door-to-door campaigning.
Social Media is also out of the reach of the “70% rural” electorate because of social and economic factors. For example, women and girls in the rural hinterland are kept at arm’s length from mobile phones – 92% of women and girls do not have a mobile device. The male of the species sees to that. Besides, the overall smartphone penetration in India is not more than 350 million out of 1.25 billion.
India has overtaken the United States in the number of people on Facebook and it is No.1 in Zuck Town. But that is only because China doesn’t want a Zuck Town. It is ‘Tencent Country’ where if the non-existent voter voices a different political message other than the Communist Party of China-parroted propaganda, he just “disappears”, online and offline. Let’s face it, data mining and data harvesting to influence government formation through elections are only possible in democracies.
Democracy for private groups of individuals (political parties) is cover to enrich themselves and each other by using the ballot box (democracy) to rule in turns: 5-10 years to this party, 5-10 years to that party, on and on… Facebook or no Facebook, when the Fat Lady stops singing, you’ll find either the Congress or the BJP – making the same promises; breaking the same promises. It’s a game of Musical Chairs. Where poverty is baked into the population, a Xi will do by far a lot better than a Modi. Or a Rahul, for that matter. (IPA Service)