Facebook on Monday, 1 April, announced that it had removed 15 pages, groups and accounts “linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch”.
Silver Touch Technologies rang a bell because not only was it associated with the far-right misinformation-peddling page, ‘The India Eye’ that Facebook removed on Monday, but also because the same IT firm was also the developer of the official Narendra Modi ‘NaMo’ App.
In a statement however, Facebook said that it has not seen any evidence of Silver Touch being associated with the NaMo App on its platform. The statement also said that it won’t speculate on off-platform connections of the two.
Facebook’s statement came after BJP IT-cell head Amit Malviya, according to an ANI report, issued a denial stating that neither the party nor the app “had anything to do with Silver Touch”.
“We have seen no evidence to date of Silver Touch being associated with the NaMo App on our platform. We won’t be speculating about off-platform connections of the actors we took down today.”Facebook Statement
However, a press release issued on 18 June 2015 by Silver Touch Technologies and archived in PRFree website says “ The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi launched the ‘Narendra Modi Mobile App’ developed by Silver Touch, to stay connected with masses”
The press release, issued a day after the app was launched on 17 June 2015, said “the mobile app developed by Silver Touch, offers the latest news and updates about the PM. It gives access to PM's 'Mann Ki Baat' state addresses, his biography and blogs.”
Silver Touch succeeded in the expeditious delivery of the ‘Narendra Modi Mobile App’ project and was appreciated for its efforts.Press release by Silver Touch, 18 June, 2015.
Silver Touch has also reportedly been associated with ‘The India Eye’ – a far-right website known for propagating misinformation – whose Facebook page was taken down on Monday.
While Facebook also removed 687 pages and groups which it says are associated with the Congress, they had a combined following of about 2 lakh accounts and spent $39,000.
So, why is an IT firm with an app linked to PM Modi in its portfolio, along with extensive government contracts, be associated with a polarising page that was taken down by Facebook for “misleading” its audience and known “to manipulate people” ?
‘The India Eye’
The India Eye Facebook page made no bones about its political leanings. With a cover picture of PM Modi and posts glorifying the BJP, the India Eye was a significant right-wing and pro-BJP mouthpiece on Facebook. At the time of its removal on Monday, the page had 2.6 million followers.
A detailed blog by the Digital Forensic Research Lab shared instances of the page’s notoriety in disseminating fake news through posts and images without any source attribution to corroborate their claims.
“One of the most engaged posts presented a polarising narrative of one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent speeches on corruption,” the blog states.
“The post suggested that, during the speech, Indian media outlets focused their cameras on the INC, as if confirming the allegations of corruption plaguing the party.”
Therefore, the question is – is there a connection between a pro-BJP propaganda page that has often been called out for peddling misinformation and Silver Touch Technologies, a company that has bagged not only the NaMo App contract but also those for dozens of central and Gujarat ministry websites?
A ‘Touch’ of BJP
Silver Touch Technologies was established in Ahmedabad in 1995 and describes itself as a company providing “top-to-bottom technical needs, including IT Consulting, System Integration Services, Software Development, E-Governance Solutions, Mobility Solutions,”.
Social media, however, does not feature in its portfolio of services offered.
This is significant because, according to an investigation by NDTV in 2017, one of its employees, Bhargav Jani, had described himself as ‘Social Media Manager for BJP’ on LinkedIn. Jani had also said that he was followed by PM Narendra Modi on Twitter. He also said he was ‘Manager in Social Media in Silver Touch Technologies Ltd’ from December 2016.
Jani has also actively participated in the BJP’s familiar modus operandi of en masse cut-and-paste tweets. During the violence that ensued in Haryana in the wake of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ramm Rahim in October 2017, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was widely censured for his failure in containing the bloodshed.
According to the NDTV report, Jani was among those who helped amplify the hashtag #HaryanaWithKhattar and posted 63 tweets (that originated on other accounts) in 92 minutes.
Silver Touch’s portfolio boasts of 46 government websites, as well as developing apps for the Ministry of External Affairs, the President of India and many others, according to the NDTV investigation report.
HIMANSHU JAIN : Whole-time Director & Link with ‘The India Eye’
- An extensive investigation by Alt News had revealed that Jain was possibly behind ‘The India Eye’ website and Facebook page.
- ‘The India Eye’ Facebook page (now removed) had a phone number - 8586993060 - in the about section.
- Next, Alt News searched for the phone number on Twitter and found that it was first posted from a handle ‘HeMan NAMO’. In fact, HeMan Namo has promoted this number as ‘The India Eye’ WhatsApp number multiple times from s Twitter profile.
- In searching HeMan Namo’s old tweets, AltNews found an August 2012 tweet that included a Facebook link- ‘fb.me/2hQEDGhIO‘.
- Clicking on the link redirected us to – facebook.com/on.himanshujain/posts/274979465944900′. This link was dysfunctional as the post was taken down, but the URL implied that the name of the person running the Twitter handle @HemanNamo could be Himanshu Jain.
- AltNews tried accessing the ‘on.himanshujain’ page by visiting the URL – facebook.com/on.himanshujain. They, however, were redirected to the Facebook page of ‘The India Eye’ instead. This suggested that ‘facebook.com/on.himanshujain’ had been merged with ‘The India Eye’ page.
- While Jain’s profile picture on twitter is usually that of PM Modi, Alt News found that in 2017 he had indeed used his photograph.
- A reverse-searching the image led to the official website of Silver Touch where he is described as the ‘whole-time director’ in the ‘About Section’
Jani, however, is not the only link to the BJP. Himanshu Jain, a whole-time director of Silver Touch, is the bridge between the IT firm and the pro-BJP Facebook page ‘The India Eye’. Here’s how.
A question that arises at this point is whether Jain was associated with ‘The India Eye’ in a personal capacity only or whether he had professional ties with the site. This is where it gets interesting.
‘The India Eye’ Hosted on Silver Touch Servers
A search for the IP address for the domain name ‘TheIndiaEye’ revealed that its IP address – 18.104.22.168 – is owned by Silver Touch.
Moreover, a further search also revealed that ‘theindiaeye.com’ domain was also using the name servers of Silver Touch.
Domain name ‘theindiaeye’ was created on 24 June 2016, as was a similar domain name ‘theindiaeye.in’, which was registered under Jain’s name. On the same day, the Facebook page initially known as ‘Changing India’ was renamed to ‘The India Eye’.
Therefore, not only was ‘Himanshu Jain associated with The India Eye’ Facebook page, but its website was also hosted on Silver Touch servers.
Silver Touch-The India Eye-BJP
In conclusion, one can summarise the underlying link between the three – Silver Touch Technologies, The India Eye and the BJP – as follows:
- Silver Touch has a whole-time director, Himanshu Jain. Jain’s Facebook page was shown to be linked with ‘The India Eye’ page.
- The India Eye is a strongly pro-BJP page and has been accused of spreading misinformation, and was one of the 702 pages removed by Facebook on Monday.
- The India Eye website’s domain name is owned by Jain and its site hosted on Silver Touch’s servers.
- Silver Touch Technologies also created the NaMO app in addition to The President of India app and a dozen central government ministry websites. It has also bagged dozens of Gujarat Government projects.
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