It has been more than four years since I became internet famous in India, and I think almost everyone there has forgotten about me, which is probably for the best. Things there have not improved in the interim, and now it looks like the government sent an assassination team to Canada to kill a Sikh separatist. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by prime Minister Narendra Modi, is still on a disturbing fascist trajectory. And now, according to new reporting in the Washington Post, they’re leading the way in the art of viral disinformation.
You can read the article for yourself, assuming you have a subscription, but the basics are that they are using WhatsApp and hard labor to build out massive lists that are then sent a steady stream of anti-Muslim propaganda. It’s not a panacea, as in the area the Post focused on the BJP recently suffered disappointing election results. But there’s no doubt there efforts are persuasive in convincing many Hindus that Muslims are a mortal threat and the BJP is their only protection.
I’ve been disturbed to see persistently high polling numbers for Donald Trump, both in his bid for the Republican nomination and in hypothetical general election matchups against President Joe Biden. And I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Republicans are kicking the administration’s ass in some hidden way that we can’t detect. After all, the BJP is not the only right-wing nationalist party that is excelling at spreading fear and misinformation. The WhatsApp messages are encrypted and sent in a highly targeted way, so unless a recipient chooses to share the messages, we’re not going to know what they contain or how often they are sent.
In 2016, something like this happened on Facebook, and we didn’t understand it until it was too late. It appeared that Trump was hardly running an advertising campaign at all, and in the traditional sense he wasn’t. But he was getting his message out privately to people on Facebook and it was the primary reason he won. Objectively, I simply do not understand why Biden’s numbers are so bad, and I keep searching for an explanation. But it’s not just that the Democrats might be missing a hidden weapon. They also might be failing to use this weapon themselves.
In India, every member of BJP with a cell phone is essentially an information warrior for the cause, spreading the party message constantly through their networks. I don’t think the Democrats are organizing in this way at all, but perhaps the Republicans are?