Scams, scandals and stings have become commonplace news in India lately. There’s a new one virtually every fortnight. The latest sting by Cobrapost, codenamed #OperationBlueVirus, exposes two dozen IT companies which put social media to nefarious use. The sting involved asking these companies to launch a branding exercise for a tainted politician and defame his opponent, even if it meant character assassination, which shockingly, none of the companies turned down. One company agreed to tear up the reputation of a fictitious company to shreds. Another agreed to launch a smear campaign against Cobrapost founder, Aniruddha Bahal, accusing him of not paying his employees, defrauding crores of rupees and being involved in a murder in a fictitious town. All this, despite being told who he was.
Some companies went further and offered disturbing “services” like making fake videos of political opponents in compromising positions go viral and spreading communal tension(one company even offered to plant bombs – real ones) to change the poll outcome. Worse, they claim to use tools that keep the calumnious content untraceable and leave no tell-tale signs.
Coming less than a month before four Indian states go to the polls, these stunning revelations seemingly vindicate the recent EC decision to bring social media campaigns under the code of conduct.
With some tweets making indirect suggestions that Narendra Modi could be a beneficiary to some of these services, this has further stirred the hornet’s nest and has #OperationBlueVirus trending on twitter.
The impact of this sting on the social media scenario in India remains to be seen. Given state elections round the corner and national elections in a few months, the demands for curbs and regulation over social media may get louder. Corporate India may sit up and take note since these “services” now exposed could very well be misused against them. And, unlike elections which come and go, their brands are evaluated on a continuous basis.
The sting has once again raised the age-old debate of technology being a boon or bane. The history of mankind is dotted with examples where great minds invented or discovered something intended to make life easier for everyone on the planet; but which eventually ended up being misused for violence, death and destruction. TNT was originally discovered in the 19th century for use as a yellow die but later began to be used as a potent explosive and is still in use until this day. Airplanes were invented to fulfill man’s dream to fly like a bird but ended up being used for destructive means as well. So were rockets; made to explore outer space but also used as ICBMs carrying nuclear warheads. History is replete with such examples but eventually it comes down not to the invention or the advancement but the hands it is in; much like the analogy of a knife in the hands of a murderer and a surgeon.
Technology has advanced at a rapid pace in the last two decades and social media has been heralded for giving common people a voice, the best example of which was seen during the Arab Spring. Large corporates and now, SMBs have effectively harnessed it to build their brands, engage customers and expand their customer base. US President Barrack Obama’s victories in both 2008 and 2012 were largely attributed to his digital and social media driven campaigns. These campaigns have been so successful that they have been dissected and analyzed by digital marketing agencies and enthusiasts the world over. It goes without saying, that social media, like any other technological advancement, used correctly, responsibly and ethically can be used to work wonders. Please share your comments here on what you feel about #socialmedia .