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Political interns fighting digital war against fake news for national interest this poll season

Student wings of political parties campaign aggressively on social media to counter rivals. The right-oriented Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) keeps an arm’s distance from the ideologically identical BJP but during its voter awareness and other social media campaigns, coins issues of national interest and patriotism.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Mar 29, 2019 10:29 IST
Chandan Kumar
Chandan Kumar
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
         

Considered as the breeding ground for active politics, student outfits are providing vital support to political parties. The young brigade that once pasted posters and set up banners has now gone indoors and fights aggressively on social media.

The right-oriented Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) keeps an arm’s distance from the ideologically identical BJP but during its voter awareness and other social media campaigns, coins issues of national interest and patriotism.

Similarly, the Samajwadi Party’s Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha (SCS) has launched a campaign to counter the BJP’s propaganda.

Bareilly’s SCS activist Hridesh Yadav’s day starts at 7 in the morning with broadcasting a message that remains the centre of discussion on nine WhatsApp groups. “Today’s message was to counter the PM’s false propaganda regarding Mission Shakti,” he said, adding, “The BJP will try to take the entire credit for Mission Shakti. We need to tell the people that it is the result of the scientific leap our country has taken in the past”.

“We have entered an age where countering our rivals in the digital world has become as important as fighting them in real life. The BJP is doing its best to spread fake news and concocted data on social media to hide its failures. So it is important for us to counter this with facts,” said Pooja Shukla who was recently appointed as the national vice president of SCS.

On the other hand, their arch rival the ABVP has taken the fight to a next level. The right wing student body has considerable presence in almost all social media verticals. In Awadh region itself that includes Lucknow, ABVP has over a 100 WhatsApp groups and several Twitter handles and Facebook pages. As per a recent media report, more information is sent on groups controlled by the outfit.

“We have a WhatsApp group in every university at the departmental level. We try to put information for students and other matters of national interest on these groups,” said Ajit Paratap Singh, state media convenor of ABVP, adding that the group did not support any political party actively. “Our motive primarily is to present facts before the voters to help them make up their minds before the polls,” he said.

In the absence of a strong student wing of Bahujan Samaj Party, its supporters had aligned with SCS, claimed Pooja. National Students ’ Union of India (NSUI), the student wing of the Congress and the Student Federation of India (SFI), that represents the left, have become almost non existent in the area.

NSUI member Gaurav Tripathi said that the group was trying to reach out physically to young voters. “We are trying to build up our base at the grassroots level so we are trying to meet the voters directly and remain in touch with the help of social media,” he said.

Reaching further with cheaper data

The canvassing of student wings for political parties has become more effective due to cheaper cost of internet data and popularisation of smart phones. In most districts, the work of making groups and adding members is done by volunteers or members who are not paid, claim the representatives of student wings.

War for and against fake news

Though all the student wings claimed that they only put verified content on social media, in many cases the information forwarded by them contains false claims. The representatives of the student wing said that they removed such information if pointed out.

First Published: Mar 29, 2019 10:29 IST