SM networks are not just messaging apps anymore. They are tools in the hands of Global business tycoons and Left-Liberal media barons & Politicians.
Come 1st Feb and I will not be using Whatsapp messaging anymore. And with that, the decade long association with this app will get over. For now, will switch to Signal, but may change to another app in near future. I am sure millions of Whatsapp users have already done it and many more will do it in the next few weeks. Whatsapp is the most popular messaging service in India and has 340 million subscribers here. Also, India is its number one market. As per an independent marketing agency, if the current trend continues, it’s all set to lose around 25% share to other messaging platforms in the next few weeks. So what has triggered this reaction amongst the users?
I know what you did last summer,winter & rains…
Now it’s quite clear that FB paid that kind of money for Whatsapp with a business plan in mind. And now it has set that in motion. It wants to use this huge userbase info along with the metadata to push products and services. And you see that’s perfectly okay with me. However what has sent the alarm bells ringing for me and many Indians is not the business, but the politics behind this.
Information is money!
Let me explain. Do you remember the Cambridge Analytica (CA) fiasco? You can find the details on the internet. But, in short, in 2015 FB allowed CA to install an app, named ‘thisisyourdigitallife’, which egged people to take a quiz. And captured personal information not only from the respondents but also from their FB friends. This way, CA is supposed to have acquired data from anywhere between 50-87 million FB users. Later this data was used to target voters during the 2016 US elections.
Cut to India, 2018. A scandal blew wide open when Christopher Wylie specifically named the Congress party as its customer. Congress, learning from the US episode, wanted to hire CA for targeting Indian voters. How much of that plan was implemented eventually, after this embarrassment, remains a mystery. But that’s beside the point, which is that FB again was found targeting voters. In 2016 it was the USA, 2018 it was India. This is a clear case of a business transgressing its limits and wading into the political waters.
So what’s Mark Zuckerburg up to? We will come to that in a bit, but before that, let us look at the background followed by few such examples. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, candidate Modi, in order to overcome the drawback of lack o support in mainstream media, used Social Media (SM) brilliantly and took his message to his audience. And this SM outreach definitely had a positive impact for the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 elections. And that’s not all. This BJP’s dominance triggered a change across socio-economical platforms. And SM heroes rose from the small towns and narrow bylanes of metros who started countering the Secularism-Socialism (Sec-Soc) narrative with one single tweet or a meme. And this was not limited to India only. Be it America or Europe, the anger against the hidden alliance between Communists and Islamists started pouring out on SM networks.
And when one thought that this democratization of SM internet will last forever, things turned. Sometime after Donald Trump’s startling victory in 2016, Right-Wing handles started facing rough weather on SM networks. Three more major (plus many more elections globally) election results after that surely accentuated this squeeze on RW profiles. Two in Europe and elections in India. In Germany, Merkel’s CDU lost a big vote share to AFD (Far-right party) in 2017 and Boris Johnson’s Tories won a decisive mandate in 2019. Not to forget Modi coming back in 2019 even with a bigger margin. So it was clear that Right Wing and Nationalist political parties were in an advantageous position to gain out of the explosion in SM networks usage.
This democratization of SM had such a massive impact that it shook all the three main players of the Politico-Business establishment. Left-Liberal media houses, big MNCs with transnational business interests & non-right (pro-globalization) Political parties. This obviously resulted in outrage, led by Journalists. RW handles were mass reported and shockingly SM networks (Twitter and FB) responded by blocking and restricting the reach of these handles. Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, True Indology, Shefali Vaidya, Dr. Anand Ranganathan are examples that come to mind quickly. These and literally thousands of RW handles which were targeted, either by blocking or shadow banning. Now the question is why? The answer is, most of the time for either quoting from history or the Quran! This may have to do with the fact that Saudi Prince, Alwaleed Bin Talal owns 5.2% of Twitter, which makes him the second-largest shareholder of the company. Incidentally, now he owns 2% more than Jack Dorsey himself.
On the one side where RW handles were banned for the smallest of offenses, most of the Islamist agenda was allowed to be peddled with impunity. For example, this series of tweets by Mahathir Mohammad (Malaysian President) was allowed to stay on for days. I am sure you are not aware of any more atrocious examples of selective targeting! And this favoritism reached its crescendo by the time Americans went in to choose a new President. All SM networks had dropped the pretense of neutrality and started supporting Biden brazenly. Now, if you are still not convinced, this confession by Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, in which he admits to having left-leaning bias will do that job. So it’s quite clear that Zuckerburgs or Dorseys of this world are in cahoots with Left-Liberal Politicians and media. The reasons can be many and will deal with them in this column next week.
In the end, we must answer the question, what will be achieved by moving onto another platform? Even that one can be taken over like Whatsapp was. Yes, but then this is a unique opportunity to forge a consumer resistance and let the big tech know that they cannot take the users lightly. Also, this is my way of resisting cartelization and thereby thwarting freedom of expression. You see, I am convinced that the biggest technology players (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc) have turned against Conservatives and Nationalists! It’s time they are given a taste of their own medicine!