A sting operation in India by Cobrapost, an undercover investigation outfit, has revealed many startling facts about social media malpractices by Indian politicians and corporates. One of them is that some of India's top politicians such Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) of BJP and Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor ) of Congress Party have millions of fake followers.
The investigation named Operation Blue Virus also revealed "the shadow warriors operating at the grey end of India's politics, deploying their dubious tools of trade," according to a report in the Outlook magazine.
(Watch the Cobrapost video here: http://youtu.be/_GfFB9-u2Uk)
The magazine reported that Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot had fake Facebook followers, most of whom were based in Istanbul. According to fakers.statuspeople.com, 69 per cent of @narendramodi followers and 65 per cent of @ShashiTharoor followers are fake.
Reporting on the agencies that help politicians create these fake followers, the magazine said that these companies offer "the standard menu option of fake followers, plus well-placed systems to sully names". They do it for a fee, ranging from few lakhs to a couple of crores of rupees (millions of rupees), to be paid in cash. They do it not only for politicians but also for corporates, NGOs and scam-tainted officials.
What is their modus operandi? According to the Outlook report, "they would use different IP addresses, offshore servers, proxy codes or wireless connections, disable the tracking device of a computer system and destroy the same when the job is over, to cover their tracks".
Apart from creating fake profiles, buying likes and generating fake following, these companies can also help make promotional, "even incendiary videos go viral on YouTube" to create divides in the electorate.
The report also made it clear that "many of these malpractices directly violate laws, such as the Information Technology Act, 2000; the Representation of People Act, 1951; and the Income Tax Act, 1961-and are as such punishable under various sections of the IPC (Indian penal code)."