ISLAMABAD, Jan 19 (APP): Modi’s Indian government continued its online harassment of women journalists, including targeted and organized online trolling as well as threats of sexual abuse.
The most horrendous fact is that most of these attacks were targeting female journalists, who had been outspokenly critical of the Bhartiya Janata Party’s government to silence them.
Prominent Indian writer Rana Ayyub said in a piece of writing published in the Washington Post titled “Opinion: An investigation sheds light into Modi’s machinery of online hate and manipulation.”
Rana Ayyub is an Indian journalist and author of “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.”
She said that on Jan. 6, the Wire, an independent Indian news site, began publishing an in-depth investigative series that accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing party, the BJP, of deploying a sophisticated app to hijack social media and even encrypted messaging platforms in order to manipulate public opinion and launch online campaigns against those it believed were a threat to the government, including female journalists.
The Wire investigated this dark underbelly of the Modi government with the help of a whistleblower, a former worker in the BJP’s information technology cell infamous for the spread of malicious fake news in the country, she added.
Rana Ayyub said “Many activists, politicians and journalists, including myself, have spoken out before about the brazen hatred and vitriol unleashed against them since Modi rose to power in 2014. The prime minister himself follows some of the country’s most misogynistic and abusive social media accounts.”
It’s clear these sophisticated digital campaigns of harassment and intimidation serve a broader strategy. It’s up to the victims to accommodate and learn how to live with this. It must be our fault.
“Though I knew my truth, I also knew I was a part of a patriarchal society that placed great premium on a woman’s character, and the only way to discredit a female journalist was to unleash an assault on her character. The harassment continues to this day. My Instagram and Facebook are always inundated with the most vicious rape threats,” she decried.
Unlike other political parties in India, she said the BJP understood early the importance of dominating the digital landscape.
“Modi’s core campaign team included not just political operatives but also media managers, PR strategists, lobbyists and heads of various IT firms. Together they crafted a vindictive social media strategy used to not just bolster Modi’s image, but also discredit the image of his opposition,” the writer said.
In 2013, she said she had published an investigation into the strategy, “Modi’s Operandi,” where she systematically put together all the pieces that made up his online hate factory.
“The rigorous investigation by the Wire confirmed and validated what many of us have known and experienced for years. But it goes beyond that: It reiterates the danger Modi presents to the Indian democracy,” the writer added.
The Indian journalist further said that the Tek Fog investigation unveiled how the app was used to target female journalists in India with sexist attacks and threats.
According to the investigation, Rana Ayub said, she topped the list of journalists in India who had received the most abuses generated through the app.
“Between January 2021 and May 2021, this app was used to send a staggering 22,000 abusive tweets to me,” she claimed in her article.
Another Post Global Opinions columnist, Barkha Dutt, and journalists such as Nidhi Razdan and Sagarika Ghose were among the other women targeted.
The Wire investigation came on the heels of another traumatic experience, she said, adding more than 100 Muslim women, including a prominent actress, multiple journalists, activists and politicians, were displayed on an app for “auction” as “Bulli Bai” of the day. “Bulli” is a derogatory word used for Muslim women.
In a strong statement, the Editors Guild of India condemned “the continued online harassment of women journalists, which includes targeted and organized online trolling as well as threats of sexual abuse. What is further disturbing is that most of these attacks are targeted at journalists, who have been outspokenly critical of the current government and the ruling party, to silence them. This is a travesty of all democratic norms, and in violation of law.”
Unsurprisingly, Rana Ayyub said neither Modi nor a single female minister in his cabinet had reached out publicly in defense or support of the victims.
She said in 2017, journalist Gauri Lankesh was assassinated outside her house by right-wing radicals.
Lankesh was one of the most abused and targeted journalists on social media. But the threats did not stay confined to the digital space. The hate that killed her could soon come calling at our doorstep, too.