BJP’s WhatsApp machine

Ahmedabad, May 21, 2024 (Google translation from Gujarati)

50 lakh WhatsApp groups belong to BJP. In 12 minutes, BJP can reach its point in any corner of India through social media. The report was given by Deacon Hernd. Apart from EVM voting machines, BJP has also made full use of WhatsApp machines to cast votes in this election.

40 crore people use WhatsApp in India. 5 crore people use WhatsApp in Gujarat. WhatsApp groups mostly belong to Bharatiya Janata Party. Analysis of thousands of messages shows how India’s ruling party uses the app to campaign free from public scrutiny.

BJP gained digital strength in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

BJP has used very short visual content on WhatsApp, Twitter.

BJP has used Instagram and YouTube the most.

WhatsApp remained the mainstay of messaging during the voting. Manages more than 50 lakh WhatsApp groups. Transmission from Delhi to any remote location across the country takes only 12 minutes.

It is estimated that BJP has 6 lakh WhatsApp groups in Gujarat. Even if we assume 50 members in a group, BJP’s WhatsApp app was reaching 3 crore people in the election.

The way of election campaign has changed. Facebook was there in the 2019 election. Instagram reels and YouTube shorts are the places where money is spent now. No long format videos; and short videos are made with trending memes and music.

The Instagram channel has more than 2 lakh subscribers.

Modi has 2 crore 16 lakh followers on Instagram.

BJP has 9 crore 65 lakh followers on X.

Modi has 1 crore 77 lakh followers on X.

But WhatsApp announced to stop business from India before the election. Because the Narendra Modi government wanted to impose some constraints on them.

WhatsApp is a messaging platform. If a third party is forced to view its messages by cracking the message encryption, it will shut down its services in India. Wanted to protect privacy.

Only the sender and the recipient can access the content of the message. Third people cannot see it. This is the company’s claim.

The parent company of WhatsApp and Facebook is Meta Information Technology Company.

There is no such rule anywhere else in the world. But the Indian government wanted to do so.

Meta’s CEO is Mark Zuckerberg.

According to a Time magazine report, Facebook’s ties with India’s ruling party are hampering its fight against hate speech. India is the largest market for Facebook and WhatsApp. Here Facebook is used by 328 million people and WhatsApp by 400 million people. An average of 319 million people use it in December 2023. Facebook has an average of 211 million daily users. It is estimated that 800 million people out of 529 crore use it daily in India. The income is Rs 3 lakh 34 thousand crores in which India has a huge share.

Both these platforms are often used to spread hate speech.

Some people in Gujarat have created a new app to send WhatsApp messages through software instead of manually. Which keeps sending thousands of group messages one after the other 365 days and 24 hours. Millions of such messages would have been sent by some parties in this election.

On January 22, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a Ram temple in the northern city of Ayodhya. Effectively launching the 2024 re-election campaign. His messages reached millions of BJP WhatsApp groups in a matter of minutes.

This is giving WhatsApp company the biggest business from BJP.

The ongoing elections in India are the largest elections in the history of the world, with about 1 billion people eligible to vote. These are so big that large-scale voting is taking place from April 19 to June 1. BJP, which has been in power for 10 years, is widely expected to win. Both Modi’s administration and his election campaign have been criticized for spreading hatred against Muslims and increasing polarization.

WhatsApp has been used by voters for information.

WhatsApp is the brand company Meta. India is the largest market for the WhatsApp application, where more than 400 million people are connected. More than a quarter of the country’s population.

The 2019 election was nicknamed the “WhatsApp election”. Politicians have doubled their campaigning on the WhatsApp app in 2024.

Kiran Garimella, an assistant professor at Rutgers University who researches WhatsApp in India, said that there are many people in India who use only WhatsApp.

40 crore

BJP’s WhatsApp activity is many times more than any other political party in the country, which cannot be compared.

Modi has developed a huge network of WhatsApp groups in 11 years that influence people by spreading propaganda messages and propaganda during and outside the election.

According to a report by the Deccan Herald, there are now at least five million BJP-run WhatsApp groups in India. The BJP’s WhatsApp infrastructure is so powerful that it can transmit information from Delhi to every part of the country in 12 minutes. Information reaches wherever there is a mobile tower.

Mandi, a town in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, has a population of 26,000.

Administrators affiliated with the BJP run a network of over 400 WhatsApp groups.

Shivam Shankar Singh, a political consultant who has previously worked with the BJP, believes the party’s dominance over WhatsApp gives it an electoral advantage. WhatsApp is India’s largest

platform for political messaging.

WhatsApp is completely different from social media platforms like X or Facebook. Messages posted in its groups are hidden from others. So even if a lie is placed in it, there is no one to challenge it as if it is not true. It is accepted as the truth.

In collaboration with Digital Witness Lab – a Princeton University research group that builds tools to investigate social media platforms – the team tracked the activity of BJP-linked WhatsApp groups in Mandi.

A BJP member used to operate such groups but the groups were not identified as BJP groups.

The BJP’s extensive WhatsApp campaign machine relies on an army of volunteers who run groups that target voters based on their location, occupation, age, religion, gender, caste and tribe.

The hostage-like nature of WhatsApp and the ease with which messages can move from one group to another.

Political and personal messages get blurred, making it difficult for voters to know whether a message has come directly from the BJP or BJP workers are taking advantage of this ambiguity to push the party’s message.

Uses the platform for campaigning. WhatsApp has created a distribution network that is so vast that it creates a glaring imbalance as elections approach.

The BJP has WhatsApp groups in every region. From the national level to state, district, taluka, village, settlements. It has a hierarchy of caste, religion, association, temple, booth level and individual groups.

It also has groups for topics, interests, farmers, youth, doctors, ex-servicemen, caste, industrialists, government schemes and intellectuals.

Women have Mahila Morcha groups. Some groups are only for BJP workers or members.

There are also groups that are not overtly political.

A video of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has surfaced showing a 10-headed Ravana.

Abhishek Kumar, senior fact-checker at Alt News, said, “This shows how easily and quickly misinformation can be spread across India using WhatsApp.”

In Mandi town, from where Kangana is contesting, a 500-member volunteer team is running the social media operation, which includes monitoring around 400 WhatsApp groups and preparing for the election.

The WhatsApp system is not just for Mandi, almost all districts in India follow this model.

Himachal has 8,000 WhatsApp groups – at least one for every polling station. There were hundreds of groups on WhatsApp using desktop computers and phones. Another 12 volunteers in the BJP IT department are tasked with sharing content in WhatsApp groups.

The BJP’s operations begin from Delhi.

Every day, the party office in New Delhi sends out messages to be shared among groups at the regional and local levels. Sam carefully watches the Delhi updates to understand what story needs to be made for the day. Also hold daily meetings with workers across the state.

Months of planning.

In March, the BJP launched a political campaign called “Modi Ka Parivar”. BJP’s national IT and social media chief Amit Malviya shared a minute-long video on Twitter, saying that India’s estimated 1.4 billion population belonged to the Modi family. Soon, BJP members began adding “Modi Ka Parivar” to their social media usernames. In the internal social media group, everyone was encouraged to add “Modi Ka Parivar” to their social media profiles.

Volunteers collect names and phone numbers of local residents. Manually add people to relevant WhatsApp groups. A volunteer adds more than a hundred phone numbers at a time to a group he runs.

Leveraging the knowledge of grassroots volunteers, some of the material travels to Delhi. Volunteers may defame opposition leaders or identify information to harm leaders.

Group posts of workers enthusiastically seek out people who post pro-BJP comments. They are specifically recruited and employed in such groups.

Concerns about such groups’ potential impact on WhatsApp elections have centered on the platform’s potential to spread misinformation and hate speech.

Since 2018, WhatsApp has imposed a limit on the number of messages users can forward.

But it is easy to circumvent the limits on message sharing. Instead of using the forwarding function, the message is copied and forwarded. Now the auto-generated community program works to place messages in multiple groups. Which automatically places those messages in thousands of groups. It sends these messages to multiple mobile numbers registered in the group.

Many people in Gujarat have used this program. A TV channel used it with the help of a cyber crime officer.

The Mozilla Foundation called WhatsApp communities a potential threat to election integrity, as they spread a message to more and more people.

were being sent.

Many of the messages circulating in the groups praise Modi, the BJP and Hindutva. This includes fake news, conspiracy theories, political attack ads and hate speech.

Some of the messages appear to violate WhatsApp’s terms of service, which prohibit, among other things, publishing falsehoods.

Posting illegal, obscene, abusive, threatening, intimidating, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive messages that are offensive to the group.

Using a WhatsApp business account of a BJP worker

Sends messages to the group. According to WhatsApp’s rules, political candidates and campaigns are not allowed to use the WhatsApp Business platform.

As the Vodya app itself knows, WhatsApp ties up with political organizations ahead of major elections. Hence the emphasis is on a security perspective.

WhatsApp’s Meta company did not respond to a question on whether WhatsApp had specifically approached the BJP ahead of the Indian elections.

Ram Mandir inauguration
On January 22, the day of the inauguration of the Ram Mandir, more than 940 messages were posted in 20 groups, which is almost three times the daily average of the previous week.

Of the 8,169 messages posted during the analysis, 751 were forwarded two or more times, of which Digital Witness Lab was able to label 713.

According to the researchers’ assessment, 36 per cent of the most forwarded messages were related to the Ram Mandir. The volume of such messages increased in the days around the event.

The BJP’s pre-poll strategy has been to promote itself as a pro-Hindu party.

15 per cent of the forwarded messages were anti-Muslim.

8% of the messages continued to come demonising the opposition party. The share of non-Ram Mandir messages is 2%. None of the messages were pro-Muslim.

There is no pro-Congress or anti-BJP content in BJP groups. It is less than 1%.

The BJP is so organised that the opposition has no comparable infrastructure.

The BJP runs from groups, not organic groups. Thus this activity is part of an organised campaign.

It includes cartoons, jokes, satire, misinformation, hate speech targeting opponents and critics. Sometimes, BJP administrators use third-party accounts to share such posts.

The emails of third-party content include posts and photos targeting critics of the national leadership and opposition candidates. All third-party content is received by mail daily across India.

People have at least 500 unread messages on their phones, which is affecting the workload and mental stress. The pressure increases.

The biggest strength of the BJP is its cadre. Using social media frameworks, things go viral. There are workers who run content, make it viral.

The workers use their mobiles, laptops without salary.

The party provides jobs, government resources and contracts to volunteers.

30% to 40% of booth-level volunteers drop out after such work. So the BJP is always recruiting new members.

Volunteers are needed to increase Modi’s popularity on social media. Are Modi’s followers increasing on their own? They get orders from the top, new workers joining the BJP are told to create accounts on [X] and follow Modi. This way their followers keep increasing.

One worker inspired many people to follow Modi on X.

The result is an imbalance in WhatsApp messaging around the election that reflects the BJP’s sophisticated understanding of messaging delivery and firm control over traditional communication channels.

By dominating WhatsApp, the BJP has effectively completed its takeover of mass media in India.

The opposition does not have such a large network. So their reach among the public is less in this election. Some people have been brainwashed. WhatsApp has significantly influenced India’s second consecutive election.