Through a two-year-long investigation into the functioning of an app called Tek Fog, The Wire has unearthed details about the ways in which the app is used by political operatives in India to hijack online trends, and automate hate and trolling on social media and messaging platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
According to the investigation by Ayushman Kaul and Devesh Kumar, here are three of the most alarming features of the Tek Fog app which were verified by The Wire:
The app allows its users to hijack the 'trending' section of Twitter as well as 'trend' on Facebook, by 'auto-retweeting' or 'auto-sharing' certain tweets and posts.
The app allows its users to hijack 'inactive' WhatsApp accounts of private citizens and use their phone number to message their contacts.
The app can use a cloud database of private citizens, categorised under various attributes like occupation, age, gender, and political inclination, to 'auto-reply' to individuals or groups. This can be done through a process of connecting a Google Sheet or by auto-generating keywords and phrases, a vast majority of which are abusive or derogatory.
Links to BJP?
The investigation details extensive links between the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP and Tek Fog. Devang Dave, the former National Social Media and IT Head of BJYM, who is currently an election manager for the BJP in Maharashtra, has denied links between BJYM and Tek Fog.
The investigation presents evidence and draws links that suggest the role of Persistent Systems, a publicly traded technology services company, in running the app. According to The Wire, Persistent Systems refused to comment on the piece prior to its publication.
To read the full investigation by The Wire, click here.