In a sensational revelation, a new book by a journalist has claimed that the ruling party of India has been using the social media platform to abuse its political opponents, actors and high profile journalists. I am a Troll by Swati Chaturvedi has alleged that the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) directed online abuse against prominent public figures and has been behind pushing out Aamir Khan from the role of Snapdeal ambassador. Also Read - Internet down: Zomato, Paytm, Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon, Myntra, many other global services suffered massive outageAlso Read - Safer Internet Day 2021: Here's how you can ensure your online security
In the book, an ex-volunteer for the alleged BJP social media troll team, Sadhavi Khosla, has claimed that head of the BJP IT cell, Arvind Gupta, sent her and other volunteers messages on the WhatsApp groups briefing on the next targets. One of the messages sent, dated November 24, 2015, reads, Time to attack Snapdeal like (we) did with greenply plywood and forced them to withdraw the defamatory ad!! Snapdeal customer care number & threaten of negative publicity & ruining business if amir khan is not kicked out from brand ambassadorship!! Let s show Hindu unity. Snapdeal later released a statement calling off its partnership with the actor and ceased to renew the contract in February this year. Also Read - Mobile internet services suspended on Delhi borders till February 2
Last year, at an awards night, Khan talked about the ongoing controversy over the issue of intolerance. Khan’s remarks on the growing intolerance in India thus irked the Hindu extremists which created a lot of brouhaha and resulted in a massive debate on the loyalty of Muslims living in India towards the country. However, things escalated when the actor revealed his wife Kiran Rao had suggested to move out of India. As a protest against the actor, users started rating the app poorly and threatened to uninstall it from their devices if Khan was not removed as the brand ambassador.
Khan is reportedly not the only target of the alleged social media troll team which has been assigned the task of publicly bullying individuals. The hit list includes political opponents, such as the Congress party vice president, Rahul Gandhi, and journalists including Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt. ALSO READ: Users uninstall Snapdeal app, give 1-star rating to protest Aamir Khan s intolerant India comment
However, Gupta has refuted the claims made by Khosla in the book, calling them unsubstantiated and that she was a supporter of the opposition Congress party. He further said that he no longer directly supervises social media activities since 2015 when the party structure was reorganised. Gupta added that the BJP had published social media guidelines on its website and never encouraged trolling .
Khosla, who had been part of the same troll team has claimed in Chaturvedi s book that starting late in 2013, she was one of the hundreds of BJP supporters receiving direct instructions on messages about whom to target next. The instructions were also given in person from senior members of the digital arm of the party.
But what led Khosla to withdraw her support from the alleged troll team? Khosla claims that being a fervent supporter of BJP-chief and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she enthusiastically participated in the online trolling using her own Twitter account to criticize Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, but over time her grew uncomfortable when being a woman she had to put slanderous tweets against Barkha Dutt .
It was a never-ending drip feed of hate and bigotry against the minorities, the Gandhi family, journalists on the hit list, liberals, anyone perceived as anti-Modi, she is quoted in the book as saying, The Guardian reports. I simply could not follow [the] directions anymore when I saw rape threats made against female journalists like Barkha Dutt, she said. Every day some new person was a target and they would attack like a swarm of bees with vile sexual innuendoes, slander, rape and death threats It made me feel suffocated as a woman, Khosla adds.
The final blow came when Khosla had to target Khan, her hero, which had suddenly become a Muslim . While Khosla has called it quits from the team, she says that the social media team responsible for directing her and hundreds of other volunteers continues to operate. ALSO READ: Citizen journalism could lead to cyber bullying: Study
Meanwhile, author of the book, Chaturvedi, a print and broadcast journalist as her Twitter bio reads, has also been a target of social media bullying in the past. In her blog, How I investigated the business of digital hate in India, Chaturvedi talks about how threatening it was to work on the biggest investigation of her life and while all trolls were promised anonymity, it was Khosla who agreed to reveal herself. In her investigations, the journalist found that how people were abusing, slandering and indulging in communal incitement, making rape and death threats, yet treating it like a 9-to-5 call centre job. She further claims that the troll accounts were being followed by Narendra Modi.
In a report by the Indian Express, the HDL account (which Chaturvedi describes in her book as the Hindu Defence League) had also shared with Khosla a magazine cover from 2005 on Aamir Khan with a story headlined, 2 Year Old Jaan! The child Aamir Khan abandoned , to be used for bullying the actor on social media. The book claims that HDL s Twitter handle @HDLindiaOrg had Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a follower. The account, however, now stands suspended. ALSO READ: Pierce Brosnan s shock over Pan Bahar ad stirs Twitter trolls back into action