Tek Fog crimes out in the open; Will punitive action follow?

Penalising the brains behind criminal app Tek Fog and those who offer blessings to such manipulative activity is the need of the hour.

Factories of hate. India abounds in them. Young Indians lured by the call of ‘Hindu Rashtra’, form the potential flagbearers of such factories, and the trend towards creating such hate domains has entered a new avenue with the advent of Tek Fog.

An extremely secret application used to hack into dormant WhatsApp accounts and message their contacts, Tek Fog has been exposed by the relentless efforts of The Wire, and what India witnessed through the expose is nothing short of alarming.

Political parties seeking the help of social media spaces to spread their propaganda and thereby manipulate user thoughts and beliefs, is nothing new.  However, using an app to tamper with social media trends in the worst possible way is what Tek Fog does. And it, sadly, has the blessings of the ruling party at the Centre.

By uploading personal information of people on a cloud database without their knowledge and making them targets of harassment later and whenever needed, Tek Fog has been playing with the conscience of people and their faiths.

The Tek Fog way of tampering with social media trends

The Tek Fog app has been found as uploading personal information of potential targets as per their occupation, religion, language, age, gender, political preferences, and even physical attributes if the targets are women. As and when an abusive message is ready, the potential targets are identified by the app and bulk messages with a key phrase are send.

Tampering with social media trends, Tek Fog makes use of its automation feature to auto-share and auto-retweet the posts with required hashtags. This is done in a bid to make the hashtag trend on top. The brains behind the app and the ones that control it can create a wider public opinion through these tweets and retweets. Manipulation of public opinion is a prime focus area. Even more deplorable is the fact that the app leaves no traces so that elimination of proof of tampering is done within no time.

In case one wonders as to where from the large numbers of hate tweets and derogatory opinion that flood the web space from time to time come from, Tek Fog is the answer. The danger that lurks comes in the form of luring hardcore haters and even fence sitters to participate in abusive campaigns even without their knowledge.

As Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had pointed out recently, the “BJP has set up many factories of hate. Tek Fog is one of them.” The Wire investigation has led to many revelations, and all of them have been alarming.  It was revealed that the app was used by politicians linked to the ruling party and their job was to artificially inflate the popularity of the party. They went about doing it by harassing critics and the media bent on seeking answers. Public perceptions were manipulated on a large scale across social media platforms such as WhatsApp, telegram, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

When such criminal activity using such a highly sophisticated app go about hijacking social media and encrypted messaging platforms so as to scream aloud the right-wing propaganda to a domestic audience, it becomes a matter of concern for a nation like India that has thrived so long on its social and secular beliefs.

The brains at Tek Fog have as their daily routine “hijacking Twitter’s trending section with targeted hashtags, creating and managing multiple WhatsApp groups affiliated to the BJP and directing the online harassment of journalists critical of the BJP, all via the Tek Fog app”, according to The Wire expose.

Where does this leave India? As renowned media person Ravish Kumar warns in his PrimeTime show, Tek Fog is a toolkit for hate and the youth of India are being lured to turn haters. A look at the reports that have been detailing the expose would point to the segregation of people in terms of their faith and political ideology. Those critical of the government and its saffron ideas are targets. Women are at the receiving end of deplorable abuses.

Saffron blessings to manipulative app

A ruling party showering blessings on such criminal activity is unheard of in the long history of democratic India. Even after the expose has come about, there hasn’t been any concrete response from the powers that be. The well-funded and criminal network built Tek Fog has been reprimanded by the Editors Guild for the app’s manner in which journalists are cyberbullied. The Guild has called for action from the Supreme Court towards an investigation. Such a misogynistic and abusive digital system needs to be dismantled by the government, the Editors Guild has demanded.

Whether a probe would be ordered so as to identify and punish all behind Tek Fog is something that remains to be seen. Dissent is being targeted and that too in an utmost manner of abuse, and yet the administration remains idle. Violation of the law is being ignored. What does this mean for the general public of India?

Manipulation of public opinion through devious, abusive means, is a crime. Penalising the perpetrators of this crime and also those who offer blessings to such criminal activity is the need of the hour. Will that happen. In modern day India, where dissent is attacked, people are pinned down owing to their religious beliefs and justice is thrown of the window, what does one expect to stay beyond the reach of such secretive manipulative behaviour is a question that calls for an immediate answer.

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