OM GANESHAY NAMAHA.
My copy of the book ‘I AM A TROLL- Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army’ by Swati Chaturvedi was delivered last week. I could not stop myself from reading it. The super-hot comments and views by fellow member on a whatsapp group led to a deep curiosity. They are the people I respect, and I value their opinion. I will pick a book that gets a YES in this group. ‘I AM A TROLL’ did.
I carry at least one book while traveling or when I am out for business meetings. It helps me utilise time productively. However, never before people questioned the choice of book I was reading and asked pointed questions or sought a straight opinion. Was it interesting? Is it credible?
That is the easy part with this book. The tough one is to decide how to start the review and how courageous can one be in being brutally honest with the impressions.
I am a mere mortal. A simple person. There are many ‘if’s and but’s’ attached to the review.Hence, this review starts by the Vighanharta chant. ON GANESHAY NAMAHA. May everything be fine.
The back cover blurb of ‘I am a Troll’ suggested a hugely incisive story. ‘Trolls’ it asked. Who are they? Why do they do what they do? And how are they organised? It promised to answer all of it.
Swati Chaturvedi, present a case of political oriented, passionately focused, strategically leveraged TROLLING as an art and science mastered by BJP. This was anyway the party that realised the advantage of social media much earlier than anyone else. It is a well-known fact that it used it to great impact in the 2014 elections. However, that was the positive side of it.
The book somewhat credibility builds the argument. It shows how the work continued but took a different hue post the famous 2014 win. The well-orchestrated BJP Digital army consisting of volunteers and paid 9-10 employees are guided, controlled and pushed by the BJP IT cell. It now works relentlessly not only to push PM Modi’s agenda and image, but seems to be more of a tool to deliver hate tweets trolling anyone who even hints of a different view point. They color communal fabric with tweets. They send sexually harassing and threatening tweets to journalists and opposition politicians who dare to question them. What we see is not a mere reflection of individual opinions and point-of-view, but a well-orchestrated mission.
The book in its first read with all the whatsapp and tweet screen shots seems hugely impressive and creditable. However, there is over dependence on two sources and limited interviews many of them anonymous. It is definitely, not the best example investigative journalism. There are many holes in the argument leaving escape routes for the target to escape.
At the end, which side you believe depends not on the content of the book, but your loyalties and interest.
There are many examples, which are fresh and clearly imprinted in the social media user segment. These have also made to the traditional media, and hence most are expected to be in the know.
The case of Aamir Khan’s deal with SNAPDEAL. As per Sadhavi Khosla ( Swati’s source with a full chapter devoted to her interview) the ‘Digital Social Media Army’ of BJP was responsible for the deal going sour. It was a reaction to the actor’s comments on intolerance.
Sadhavi claims to have worked closely in the BJP Social Media Team. Post the book release, it has been refuted by her boss Smita Barooah and Arvind Gupta (the leader of the IT cell). However, the book presents enough circumstantial evidence for you to believe it.
Sadhavi Khosla is the star performer in the witness box.
However, the interview of a party spokesperson adds nothing. The interview with the creator and instigator of the IT cell hardly brings any credible layer to the whole chain of arguments. Nevertheless, on every page you find an echo ‘I know who tweeted and who got them tweeting last summer’.
What weaken the argument are flimsy trigger points for Sadhavi Khosla’s disenchantment with the digital army. The case of trolling Aamir Khan and Shah Rulh Khan is one of them. The overt unhidden anti- Muslim agenda. Attack on Barkha Dutt. And then there is the impact of her work in her family and married life. But, strange things are known to happen. It is not important, what triggered this flip. What is important is what it reveals.
Something is crude, and they shake you up. I am intrigued and appalled by the interesting trivia. Out of the minuscule 1549 account that Prime Minister Modi follows are the identified unmasked trolls.
How does that happen? Why does he allow it to happen? What is happening? Is it not clear that this act of following and inaction amounts to an inferred interest? At the same time, we are told that the PM is deeply interested in social media and directly operates the account. There is NO VALID RATIONAL EXPLANATION.
Interestingly and one of the most crucial ( again strong circumstantial ) evidence presented raises a fresh set of questions. There is a reference to a basic technology analytics of a heat map of tweet’s origin. It is argued basis the information available on public domain. The heat map conclusively proves that one unknown obscure area in Thailand has been one of the main geographical sources of tweets that helped PM visits abroad to trend. There are no two conclusions on the subject of what is happening.
‘I am a Troll’, is a simple, interesting, quick bite, fast paced book. The main content covers some 150 pages. The type size is smart and leads to an easy on-the-go reading. The pictures and the screen shot reproductions could have been better mastered and presented, but think the credibility of them would have dipped. Right now, many of them are hazy but readable enough.
It is anyway a singularly focused investigative book. It can convince the reader of the possibilities and clouded reality of the world they live in. As a reader, I would have wanted a bit more reference and insight on how other parties leverage this medium.
Even if there are similarities in approach or the social media armies across political parties use such trolls, it does not license the act. TROLLING IN ANY FORMAT IS WRONG AND NEEDS SOCIAL DISCOURAGEMENT.
The arguments in the book may be flimsy. It may raise doubts even in the mind of loyal bhakt. There is over dependence on unexposed anonymous sources, and it may reek of political bias. Nevertheless, you cannot deny that with its style of presentation, the reader is most likely to be convinced of Swati Chaturvedi’s reasoning and proposition.
Hence, when Swati comments in one of her interviews, ‘I am a journalist, not an activist. It was my job to nail the links, and show how it is being done, and now it’s up to others to take it forward’. It disappoints. At the same time, it is not right to expect the whistle-blower to lead the expose to its natural outcome.
As a reader, one hopes that Swati takes the journey a bit further, and we get to be more conclusive.
To start with, I also wait for the answer to one of the most volatile questions. Why does PM Modi follow these trolls? He has complete freedom to follow who ever he wants to. However, the post of PM in the largest democracy, comes with its constraints. And here I wish to use the famous hanging question mark. THE NATION WANT’S TO KNOW.
I am a Troll by Swati Chaturvedi, Juggernaut, Rs250. Pages 162.
It is definitely not an essential read. But then it is worth the time you send reading it.
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