By K Raveendran
BJP seems to have re-discovered the original intent of Mark Zuckerberg when he set up a website for Harvard University students, which was later to become Facebook, the social media giant that it is today. Zuckerberg set it up essentially as a tool for students to shame each other and their professors. But as the Harvard dropout’s epoch-making initiative grew in stature, his platform evolved into one of the most effective communication media for the masses, bringing people together, empowering the voiceless and a load of other benefits, with the original hate resource becoming only an aberration.
But unfortunately, this potential for mischief has developed into a highly sophisticated tool, which is being used to subvert democracy and hijack popular will. The most high-profile instance of such misuse was attributed to Russia to influence the outcome of the US presidential elections, for which Zuckerberg himself has had to pay dearly.
India’s ruling dispensation has been one of the early adopters of social media to drum up support for itself and has employed an army of cyber warriors to influence public opinion. But with the supersonic speed at which technology is evolving, there is no need even for people to carry on the clandestine operation as the role has been taken over by bots, which will manipulate social media accounts to distort public opinion and make it appear to be in favour of the ruling party and its leaders.
A disgruntled staff member of the ruling party’s cyber cell has now revealed that it has been using a browser-based application named Tek Fog to infiltrate social media platforms to spread misinformation, target journalists, particularly women reporters and home in on anyone it deems an opponent. It can be used against anyone who expresses dissent and apparently used against opposition parties, social activists and anyone found to take a stand that is not to the comfort of the ruling establishment.
According to reports, Tek Fog is much more powerful the tools allegedly used by Russian agents in the US election campaign. The new generation product can enable social media operatives to tap into Twitter and Facebook accounts and manipulate trending subjects by automatically sharing or retweeting posts, and targeting existing hashtags to commandeer the narrative on the platforms. This was apparently being used to spread fake news as well, while creating the impression that a certain type of opinion, which is in favour of the ruling party and its leaders, is the most dominant view. Conversely, the technique has been used to suppress adverse opinion as well.
Worse still, the tool has allegedly been used to steal identities and log into inactive accounts to manipulate trending subjects. The program also allowed users to easily create temporary email addresses and bypass authentication systems, which is the ultimate cyber security threat, which the government has been shouting about from the rooftops. It not only exposes the hollowness of the Modi government’s pious declarations about privacy, but brings out the real intent. In a way, there is no surprise in the sense it reflects the scant respect that the saffron party has for democratic institutions and the rights of the citizens and the tendency to justify anything in the name of nationalism.
Another most worrying aspect about the tool’s use by the ruling party operatives is that it is a military-grade solution that is nevertheless available to only state players for use against enemies. It is deeply distressing that it has landed up in the hands of the ruling party, which is not a state player in any sense of the term. This means that it may have been acquired by the government for use against ‘enemies’, which according to the saffron concept could include its own citizens if they don’t fall in line with the government’s approach and thinking, and then passed on to the ruling party for use against anyone opposed to it. We haven’t yet reached a situation where the line separating the party and the government is not yet completely fogged and got blurred. This should in turn raise serious questions about the use of Tek Fog by the ruling party, even if one manages to invent some reasons for its use against the country’s citizens themselves. (IPA Service)