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By Kunal Pradhan

With political discourse on social media reduced to taunts and abuse, BJPs new guidelines aim to elevate the level of debate

n March 17, Amaresh Misra, a member of the Congress party who describes himself as an author, historian, film writer and politician, went on one of his usual Twitter rampages. Lashing out at supporters of BJP in 140-character insults peppered with expletives, he tweeted at 12.50 a.m.: @shilpitewari We know where you live Shilpi. Zyada pro-BJP banee to tere saath vahee karenge jo Sanghi har*** ke saath karte hain (If you act too pro-BJP, we will do with you what should be done to right-wing b****s). The woman he threatened is an active Twitter user from New Delhi. As the Internet bubbled in her support, there was a moment when Shilpi Tewari was terrified her Web world would impinge on the real world. Misras conduct is an extreme example of what Twitter exchange between supporters of Indias two leading political parties often gets reduced tosome BJP supporters describe proCongress tweeters as Congis, journalists as dalal media, anti-Modi voices as sickular, and refer to Sonia Gandhi as mythical demoness Tadaka. The general lowering of standards has created a hyper-sensitive and highly charged Internet universe where meaningful dialogue has been overtaken by the rush for one-upmanship, often ending in personal abuse. Trolls on both sides of the fence, volunteers who are either encouraged or on payrolls of the parties, hunt in packs, attempting to tear down the opponents propaganda. These mobs usually get out of control, and debate is reduced to a level that threatens to render social media useless as a platform for serious political discourse. Worried about this emerging trend,

Information Technology Cell, which had a free run until Congress responded in April with its own Twitter campaign, is taking the high moral ground by attempting to rein in its online activists. On May 11, the cells national head, Arvind Gupta, uploaded draft social media guidelines meant for party leaders, workers and supporters. In a first-of-its-kind attempt at crowd-sourcing, he asked BJPS online brigade to suggest changes, omissions, and additions to the document. The final, refined version will be uploaded by May-end after taking these suggestions from the general public on board. The guidelines document is unique because in it, BJP takes responsibility not just for its leaders and officials but also for legions of supporters who may not be directly associated with the party. BJP broadly recognises three levels of affiliation with the party, the document says, A. BJP office bearers; B. BJP party members; C. BJP supporters. The document acknowledges that while it is not possible to verify each individual member and supporter, it encourages them to adhere to the Dos and Donts listed in the guidelines. Those who wish to claim affiliation with the party must be mindful that their social media conduct reflects on the partys image, hence their conduct in social media must exemplify the values the party stands for, the document says. A healthy debate on various issues is encouraged as it promotes understanding of various nuances and complexities of issues. However, debate should ideally not become a ruse to unnecessarily tag people and/or result in behaviour which can be construed as cyber bullying. The party cannot condone behaviour on social media that is abusive and behaviour that is in violation of the law, it adds. BJP is hoping that the Congress will
Illustration by SAURABH SINGH/www.indiatodayimages.com

How Congress Trolls Attack

The ruling partys supporters have created their own vocabulary to take down BJP tweeters
Sanghi Anyone with even the slightest affection for BJP/VHP/RSS/Bajrang Dal or against Congress.

acknowledge this peace offering and respond with similar instructions to its own support base. But Sanjay Jha, a member of the partys new social media committee and one of the architects of the #Feku campaign aimed at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in response to the BJPS #Pappu campaign targeting Rahul Gandhi, says that BJP is merely trying to control a monster it has itself created. When it comes to political dialogue, social media has become a one-sided platform where there is a constant bombardment by BJP trolls whose only job is to attack Congress supporters, says Jha. It has made young people, whose political affiliations are fluid, look only at extreme positions. Its given rise to secular fundamentalists, transforming people who were otherwise liberal and open-minded into hardliners.

Feku/FekuFauj/FekuFail Narendra Modi originally, but now for anyone with a predisposition to brag about BJP leaders/achievements.
Hindutva Goon Phrase to establish that supporters of Congress are less thuggish, more intellectual.

#BigJokeParty An obvious and enduring expansion of BJP. Used in tweets that poke fun at BJP gaffes.
#Toothache A day after the Karnataka results, Modi reportedly cancelled all public events because of a toothache.The word is now a metaphor for anyone making disingenuous, cowardly excuses.

#FindingNaMo A sense that Modi, extrapolated to BJP at large, hogs credit for the good, and ducks responsibility for the bad.
by Shiv Aroor

peaking to INDIA TODAY, Gupta, 42, a University of Illinois alumnus credited with organising the BJPs online following into a cohesive network, says it is high time political parties take the lead in making social media debates cleaner and healthier: The new draft guidelines will help us better engage with people on policy matters. When youre leading the online political discourse ten to one in terms of number of supporters, it is your responsibility to ensure that discussions remain healthy and the platform remains relevant. The issue is only not about abuse, its about raising the standards of the debate. The guidelines are BJPS way of showing that there is no official sanction to the kind of language social media discussions often degenerate to, and one of measures being considered is banning anyone who does not follow the guidelines from using the party logo in their display/profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook. There isnt too much we can do in terms of disciplinary action but were asking our supporters a very simple question: By being combative, or by not following the guidelines, are they actually helping the party? A part of the problem, says Gupta, is


INDIA TODAY May 27, 2013

May 27, 2013 INDIA TODAY





How BJP Trolls Attack

Party supporters have coined their own array of Twitter insults
Congi For anyone who betrays even oblique appreciation for a Congress leader/policy/event.

CONgress Stylised form of the partys name as a tribute to the unending season of scams.
PaidMedia/ChorMedia/DalalMedia Exclusively used for journalists who take a swipe at Narendra Modi, no matter how oblique.

Sickular/PseudoSickular For those who betray tendernessgenuine or otherwisefor minority communities, largely Muslim.
Pappu Rahul Gandhi, but also anyone who professes affection for the Gandhis.

CRT (Congi Reptile Trolls) Coined by Subramanian Swamy to describe Congress warriors who heckle him, a word now embraced by the right.
by Shiv Aroor

that a large number of supporters are not comfortable with writing in English, which is evidenced by bad spelling and poor grammar that is Twitter verses bugbear in India. When people cant think of anything clever to say, they often resort to abusing, he says, just like in the real world. Such behaviour lends support to advocates of social media regulation, and threatens to introduce moderators into what is otherwise an open platform. Its easy for abuse to lead to censorship, Gupta says, which would make the entire medium meaningless. Congress, on the other hand, believes the new BJP guidelines are its acceptance that the ruling party too can play the game, driven home by how successfully the Feku tag stuck to Modi after a day-long operation on April 8, when he was delivering two speeches in New Delhi. Modi used the term Feku industry in his talk to the Gujarati diaspora on May 13. It goes to show that BJP has recognised that you cant win simply by harassing others, says Jha. It will be a positive move if they actually get people to follow their guidelines. All the problems will be solved if one can get

the abuse out. But it may be too little, too late given how the right-wing parties have already radicalised the social media space. Asked directly about Amaresh Misras tweets, Jha replies: One swallow does not make a summer. We condemned what he had said. It is implicit that anyone who abuses cannot be in our system. We dont need guidelines to keep our supporters on the right path. Misra himself is unrepentant. What I said was a fitting response to the kind of things BJP supporters say all the time, threatening our leaders and supporters. They started it. It was my way of showing that I can give them a taste of their own medicine, he says. But its futile to argue who cast the first stone in a new social media world where no side is without sin.
Read: Social media war rooms getting ready for the 2014 elections www.indiatoday.in/sm-agenda Read: #Pappu vs #Feku, the Twitter war between Congress and BJP www.indiatoday.in/feku-pappu


INDIA TODAY May 27, 2013