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Despite WhatsApp’s Precautionary Measures, BJP Plans To Spread Fake News Among 700 Million People Through WhatsApp

A former BJP employee alleged that the party had collected reams of personal data to classify voters and added them to different groups based on location, socioeconomic status and age.

In an effort to spread fake news, WhatsApp announced on January 21 that users will only be allowed to forward messages to a maximum of five contacts or group chats.

While it’s a new rule for most international users of WhatsApp, in India, it has been in place for more than six months now — introduced after a spate of violence in early 2018, when rumours of child snatchers fuelled mass hysteria in many towns and villages across the country. And as per a report in Time magazine, it has done little to curb the spread of misinformation.

As per a September 2018 Hindustan Times report, ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made plans to have three WhatsApp groups for each of India’s 927,533 polling booths. With a maximum of 256 members per group, the BJP could potentially reach 700 million people through these group chats.

These group chats as per the Time magazine report, are filled with false information and hateful rhetoric. “There is an army of volunteers whose job is to sit and forward messages,” Soma Basu, a fellow at the Reuters Institute at Oxford University, who is researching the spread of hate messages on WhatsApp group chats in India, told Time. “The volunteer is not able to forward a message to 20 people in one go any more,” she said. “So they’ll just do it five times.”

Former BJP employee Shivam Shankar Singh alleged that the BJP had collected reams of personal data to classify voters and adds them to different group chats based on their location, socioeconomic status and age. “That allowed the BJP “to send a specific message to a specific caste group,” he told Time, adding that these groups are used to, “reinforce things.” “So if you have certain anti-Muslim tendencies, then the propaganda will be directed to telling you how bad Muslims are,” he said.

One example cited by Time is from a WhatsApp group called “Vote For Modi,” where a graphic image of a man’s body being hanged by the neck outside a temple was shared. It was captioned, “One more priest has been murdered. Remember, the jihadis are not going to stop at just this.”

In another message cited by Time, in a pro-BJP group chat called “Hardcore Hindu Army 2,” one user distributed false population statistics: “Wherever you look nowadays you will see only Muslim men and women. Seven hundred million Hindus, 650 million Muslims.”

Commenting on the Time report, a BJP spokesperson said that the saffron party never bought phone numbers. However, he confirmed that group chats were created using phone numbers which were voluntarily offered.

Also read: Time’s Up For Fake News: Rajasthan Police Sternly Warns Person Spreading Fake, Inciteful Video On Twitter

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