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The Politics of Social Media: How BJP uses social media to monopolise messaging

Social media has made Indian politics inclusive by allowing citizens, who were traditionally excluded from politics due to geography and demography, to gain direct entry into the political process. It has also allowed for a diversity of viewpoints and public engagement on an unprecedented scale.
 
But, do you know that the BJP’s massive victory in elections lies in its clever online and offline campaign strategies, as well as its robust grassroots support base and organisational structure? 
 
The saffron party how hate speech and extreme speech have become routine in online political communication and participation in India, its gendered implications, and the role of the Hindu right wing in producing majoritarian rage online.
 
The IT cells of BJP & Congress engage in coordinated online attacks. However, BJP has a much more complex structure. What is common to both is a set of nodal or “seed accounts” that act as the source of political content.
 
I have identified that these accounts have particular traits. These accounts are unverified, put out content at an abnormally high rate, and were mostly created during a specific period of 2013-14. These are the accounts which start trends on Twitter, and post images or videos that are then shared widely.
 
These seed accounts tweet at a breakneck speed, posting an average of 30 tweets per hour or two tweets per minute. Nearly 20,000 seed accounts operate from BJP’s side. All of them were followed by BJP ministers or office-bearers. 
 
What is interesting is that around 75% of them have the same cover image. (The one seen on this profile) Most of these came into being only around 2013-14. They never existed before 2011.
 
So, from the seed accounts, the second wrung segment has 80 accounts each under each seed account. These second segments of accounts amplify content put out by seed accounts. Some reports indicate that, in total, the network of BJP-affiliated users has more than 1.4 million accounts. And, they use bots for retweets.
 
Almost 67 clusters exist for BJP’s social media team across India, with each cluster representing one geographical region. Most of the accounts are based in Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or Gujarat. But creating and sharing content on a large scale is only a part of the strategy. How do these accounts coordinate with each other?
 
A lesser-known feature of Twitter — lists — is used for this purpose. The second wrung accounts belong to some Twitter list or another. These lists help to track the activities of these accounts, and make it easier to retweet content on a mass scale.
 
The activity of the Congress or other political parties' social media cells is largely aimed at trending certain hashtags or topics at specific times — say, when a rally is taking place or on a special day with respect to the party. 
 
But, here’s what BJP does — all social media handles of the BJP keep tweeting in high volumes even at times when nothing particular is happening, by posting low-effort content. This is aimed at ensuring that when one searches for a particular topic, pro-BJP voices show up more often.
 
Whatsapp elections
 
Additionally, BJP uses direct messaging platforms too. WhatsApp is the most favoured medium to spread the message through creatives, memes, videos and agenda-driven information because 82% of India’s mobile phones have downloaded the app. The messaging through Whatsapp can be customised for the audience and targeted at specific people.  
 
A political party can create groups defined by their interests, caste, or religious identity, or by a specific issue or cause and bombard them with messages to reinforce their biases and convince them the party is with them.
 
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the master of this technique, running an estimated half-million WhatsApp groups across the country. The BJP IT Cell strongly believes that “the upcoming elections will be fought on the mobile phone….In a way, you could say they would be WhatsApp elections.”
 

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