At least some of our readers may recall the sting operation by news portal Cobrapost in March 2018 named 'Operation 136'. The uncovering made by the journalist Push Sharma contained revelations of how a few of the mainstream media received payment in return for propaganda in favour of the Hindutva movement, and by implication of the sangh parivar government. Sharma approached about 40 newsrooms including big media houses, introducing himself with the psyeonym Acharya Atal, as the exponent of a Hindutva outfit 'Srimad Bhagvat Gita Prachar Samiti'. His lucrative offer was that if the media organisations carried content in favour of the BJP to set a pro-BJP political atmosphere in the 2019 general election, he could givem them huge sums. What came out as a result were video clips and audio records of several news outlets like Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala and India TV being ready for undiluted Hindutva propaganda in return for money.
Many including prime minister Narendra Modi's favourite Rajat Sharma got caught in the trap. Operation 136 was the picture of some major names in the mainstream media kneeling before the sangh parivar quarters, albeit for money. Now social media entities also look like following the same footsteps. The most recent revelation in this series is that of Facebook's 'kar seva'. Reports indicate that the tech giant, purely out of fear of the displeasure of the central government, has been turning into a major medium of the hate politics propounded by the sangh parivar. Social media have on many critical occasions functioned as a corrective force when mainstream media fell short, but now when they are also being bought up by Hindutva politics, that raises no small concerns. This can also presage the demise of a channel of the people, which had empowered them to make direct interventions in dissemination of news, views and information. It is a fact that the sangh parivar had employed social media to telling effect for a range of objectives right from election campaign to whipping up sentiments for communal riots.
But so far, all this was limited to exploiting the possibilities offered by the platform of social media. But now what the sangh parivar is aiming at is to bring under its control an entire machinery of such media. And the more insidious dimension of it is that an entity like Facebook has also become prepared to compromise its policies. Despite the fact that some spiteful anti-Muslim comments by the BJP MLA from Telangana were violative of Facebook's hate speech policy, the Indian heads of Facebook did not take steps to delete those posts or designate him as a dangerous individual. Facebook has granted this concession for notable hate-mongers of the sangh parivar. The report by Wall Street Journal that this was part of a deal with the BJP, cannot be dismissed as such. In background is a fact that the payment services of Whatsapp, a Facebook owned firm, is awaiting approval of the Centre. And there are also back-end moves to revive Facebook's project of 'Free Basics' that had to be suspended in 2016 following popular protests. Facebook and Whatsapp have 34 crore and 40 crore users respectively in India. The stance of Facebook chief Mark Zuckergerg even earlierr was that for maintaining such a huge customer base, some dilution of policies would be justified. And it was with a similar compromising stance that during the US poll campaign of 2016, Facebook had worked jointly with British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica involving harvesting and leakage of data of millions of users.
The same game was played out later in Britain and Brazil. Thus it is after hoisting far-right forces in power in the three countries that Facebook has entered into what can be called a political friendship with the sangh parivar stream in India. But if in other countries it was merely a case of data transfer, when it comes to India, matters become more ominous, for the new collusion is set to hand over the entire content and algorithm of Facebook to the control of the saffron group. Although Facebook has denied this charge, with the facts in front of every one, that denial cannot be taken at its face value. Given that the incendiary posts of Kapil Mishra and others who had called out for genocide of Muslims in northeastern Delhi a few months ago, still remains there without being taken down, Facebook's denial can only be viewed as a farce. In this regard, the stand of the BJP - which skirts the issue without clearly responding to the precise charges - is also under a cloud of suspicion. The Hindutva exponents are a school that has adopted spread of hate and fake news as standard operation procedure. As such there is nothing unnatural for them to win over social media outlets, which among others is also the breeding ground of both. But its ramifications will be beyond all predictions. And if they, as a political class with proven record of igniting numerous riots, come to rule the roost in social media too, what would be left intact in the country?