Punjab polls: In the virtual world, propaganda politics takes the poll position
At least six Facebook pages with substantial visibility are posting content aimed at tarnishing the image of one or the other political party ahead of the February 14 Punjab polls
As political parties in Punjab are gearing up for a virtual mode of campaigning, propaganda Facebook (FB) pages in the garb of comedy/satire are already on the job. At least six such pages with substantial visibility are posting content aimed at tarnishing the image of one or the other political party.
Virtual profiles of five such pages declare that they run paid political content in the form of videos, images, and graphics. The content on these pages is mainly in Punjabi and the number of their followers, along with ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and ‘views’ of the posts, vary.
Started on November 8, 2021, ‘Beakli Dal’ page targets the Akali leadership. On Wednesday, it had 16,000 followers and a video posted on Thursday garnered 80,000 views. Its transparency details say the page has eight India-based administrators.
‘Dhongiaap’ page’s Punjabi content targets Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and it was created on November 9 last year. With 9,500 followers, the page posted 11 videos on Wednesday and the views ranged between 6,000 and 39,000. It, too, has eight India-based administrators.
Another Facebook page with the same name — Dhongi AAP — started in October 2016 has 16 administrators, of which four are based in Canada and 12 in India. Six videos posted on it on Thursday had up to 3,400 views.
‘Gapptaan Pro’, an anti-Congress page, was floated in March last year and the page has a following of 38,000 accounts. A 1.43-minute video posted here eight weeks ago logged 47,000 views.
Created on October 23, 2021, ‘PunjabBolda’ FB page has over 16,000 followers. Its content is mainly against the AAP, Congress, and BJP. All the 15 administrators of the page are based in India.
Started on December 8 last year, ‘KhakiKachhianWale’ page that targets the BJP and its political allies, already has over 7,500 followers. A video posted last week attracted 26,000 views.
Except ‘Gapptaan Pro’ and ‘Dhongi AAP’, the rest of the pages run the political advertisements, say the ‘transparency’ profile of the respective FB accounts.
Dean of mass communication at a private university in Punjab and a media analyst, Ashutosh Mishra, says the political memes are aimed at influencing mainly the young voters. “Earlier such pages were found camouflaged as ‘news’ websites or channels but now they are appearing in the guise of satire. Digital media literacy is the key to redress the issue,” he says.
Leaders of the political parties say their IT teams are identifying the offensive content and complaints are being lodged with the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Facebook.
“Digital propaganda in the guise of humour is aimed at to escape from the objective discussions on electoral issues. This is a cause of concern as the virtual platforms are being used to build a narrative against the opponents,” said Rubal Kanozia, an assistant professor and expert in political communication at Bathinda-based Central University of Punjab (CUP).
Spokesperson of AAP’s state unit Neel Garg said the IT team has been sounded to get the biased content removed.
Akali Dal’s IT cell chief Nachhatar Gill said the party has already taken up the matter with the Facebook authorities against 4-5 propaganda pages.
BJP general secretary Subhash Sharma said the party’s legal cell is preparing a list of FB pages propagating slanderous content and a complaint will be lodged with the ECI in the near future.