Our country is preparing for the 2019 election and the two major political parties of our country are in full swing with their campaign proposals. Just like during the 2014 campaign, this year too, there are websites and Facebook pages asking you to fill up forms pledging support to our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.
While casually scrolling through the Facebook wall, The Logical Indian came across a ‘sponsored’ post.
Intrigued, we clicked on the link and played along. The link will take you to a website called the Nation with NaMo. The front page asks for your phone number, then asks whether you are a first-time voter or not. After giving out this information, you have to pledge your support to vote for PM Modi in the 2019 election. When we first came across the website, it had 31,692 pledges. Now, within a half a day, it had over 2000 more pledges.
Free T-shirts if you refer
There is also a phone number which is provided at the top of the pledge. Once you call the number, it gets disconnected and you would receive a call from another number from Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
“Mere pyaare desh vasiyo. Hum nikal pade hain taaye kaarke Desh ko naya banana hain (My beloved countrymen. We are on the path to reinventing a new India),” says Mr Modi once you pick up the call. After Modi stirring up your patriotic feelings, an automated voice welcomes you to the “volunteer network committed to the welfare of the nation.” Once we hung up, we immediately received a message which says that if we ‘make’ our friends register with our referral code, we get a free ‘official’ Narendra Modi T-shirt.
After prying a little more, it was found that the Top 100 people who have referred the most number of people would receive free NaMo T-shirts every month. Nation with Namo also has WhatsApp groups for different states. You can register to be a part of the groups by specifying your state.
“As India evolves into one of the leading democracies and economic engines of the world, and steps into its 17th General Elections, young, educated and motivated professionals are coming together under Nation with NaMo to volunteer and support PM Narendra Modi in his developmental agenda,” reads the ‘About’ section of their website.
Scrolling down on the home page, you would find videos made by well-known right-wingers. There are videos of Swarajya blogger, journalist Abhijit Iyer-Mitra and Major Gaurav Arya. In one of the videos, Major Gaurav Arya talks about how he met a stone pelter in Kashmir who admitted to him that they get paid to pelt stones. He says that the stone pelter told him that they take drugs to pelt stones for such long hours.
Major Arya is known to have spread false information before. Swarajya and DailyO blogger, Smita Barooah in a video talks about how illegal immigrants are changing the demographics of Assam and also changing its culture. All these videos do not talk about Narendra Modi, neither does it talk about any of his policies.
“Terms and Conditions”
“NwN cannot guarantee and makes no representation regarding the accuracy or currency of such forms or information or the operation of its tools…” reads their Terms & Condition section and thus they are turning a blind eye towards the kind of information they are promoting. It clearly shows that they are not interested in propagating the correct information.
“Accept all risks of unauthorized access to the Input Data and any other information you provide to NwN…” further reads the Terms and Condition section. This means that the private information such as your name, phone number, email id, college name and voter id card details can be used by anyone NwM shares it with. It will not ask for authorisation.
The Logical Indian Take
So, you like the PM and you made a pledge to vote for him again. No issues, right? Well, here is why it’s a problem.
- This website is structured and layered with propaganda which aims to promote a false spirit of nationalism. The presence of known fake news propagators like Major Arya is a clear red light.
- The website offers free ‘official’ NaMo t-shirts when you refer your friends. This is the same marketing technique which companies use to promote their products. The only difference is that here, the product is the PM and the thing at stake is Indian democracy and its 132 million+ people.
- Thirdly, it says in the ‘Terms and Conditions’ section that the data on the website is not necessarily accurate and all the information given by the user can be used by anyone.
- Moreover, the data which you give can be used to find your’s and your friends’ FB and other social media profiles. Now, an unknown entity has your profile data, your personal details, your phone number and your Voter-ID card details. This can be used for ‘targeting’ by this entity or it can be sold to any other entity without your permission and it can lead to identity theft.
- It can also be seen as a recruiting tool or at least a way to add ‘like-minded’ people to WhatsApp groups which can then be used to influence more people using messages (fake or real).
- This is not about just one website as there are multiples FB pages, WhatsApp groups who are also trying to influence voter behaviour by pushing agenda and selective information (misinformation).
Social media has become an inherent part of our lives and the political parties know it well. This page appeared on a Facebook wall as a sponsored post. The caption was enough to invoke a sense of nationalism and pledge support. While it is true that these pledges do not necessarily mean that all of them would transform into actual votes, it still matters. Mark Zuckerberg had to face tough questions in two-day congressional hearing after the Cambridge Analytica incident. It clearly showed that Facebook was an integral instrument to influence voters during the 2016 US Presidential elections.
In the Indian context, internet penetration has steadily increased, however, the increase in awareness about data privacy is still lacking. Moreover, the current legal framework in India doesn’t have elaborate guidelines for user consent and the draft bill which borrows from EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is yet to become law.
In March 2018, The Hindustan Times reported that PM Modi, during a meeting with BJP MPs in Delhi encouraged each MP to get three lakh ‘genuine’ FB likes. In 2016, The Times Of India reported that Amit Shah reportedly told BJP members in UP to get 25,000 followers or likes if they want to contest 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections.
In August 2018, The Economic Times reported the head of BJP’s IT cell, Amit Malviya saying, “The upcoming elections will be fought on the mobile phone…In a way, you could say they would be WhatsApp elections.” The ET report further highlights how user profiling and WhatsApp groups can help political parties manipulate elections.
People are being offered free ‘official’ NaMo T-shirts for asking others to pledge support. The website is peddling communally charged and factually incorrect information that can instigate others. This website also can share your personal data with anybody, without asking for your permission. It is true that this is not anything new, yet it is concerning as the 2019 elections are approaching.
Also, even though BJP is the party in power at the centre and it has the widest reach, this issue is not limited to a single political party. So, as citizens, we should be careful with our personal data and educate others about the same. Moreover, no matter which political party you support, you wouldn’t want to be manipulated by a nameless, faceless entity in the name of the Prime Minister of India.