The controversy over breach of Facebook data and its likely misuse by Cambridge Analytica for influencing elections should have made Prime Minister Narendra Modi pause for a while.
The exposé and allegations that prime minister's NaMo app leaked users' data to a US-based company in serious violation of privacy laws should have deterred Modi.
The NaMo app exposé is far more serious than the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal because the former concerns the official mobile app of the prime minister himself. Some media repots have verified and confirmed that data of over five million people was shared with a foreign company.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi was the first to go off the bloc to charge Modi with data leak. In a Twitter post Rahul likened Modi to "the Big Boss" who was spying on the Indian people. He claimed that the NaMo app secretly records video, audio, mobile numbers and email ids of users. Also, the mobile numbers and email id of 1.3 million NCC cadets, who downloaded the app, has been compromised.
Modi misusing PM position to build personal database with data on millions of Indians via the NaMo App promoted by Govt.If as PM he wants to use tech to communicate with India, no problem. But use the official PMO APP for it. This data belongs to India, not Modi.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 26, 2018
Modi’s NaMo App secretly records audio, video, contacts of your friends & family and even tracks your location via GPS.He’s the Big Boss who likes to spy on Indians. Now he wants data on our children. 13 lakh NCC cadets are being forced to download the APP.#DeleteNaMoApp— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 26, 2018
Hi! My name is Narendra Modi. I am India's Prime Minister. When you sign up for my official App, I give all your data to my friends in American companies. Ps. Thanks mainstream media, you're doing a great job of burying this critical story, as always.https://t.co/IZYzkuH1ZH— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 25, 2018
BJP's IT cell chief Amit Malviya hit back saying Congress shared the data of party's app users with "friends" in Singapore.
Hi! My name is Rahul Gandhi. I am the President of India’s oldest political party. When you sign up for our official App, I give all your data to my friends in Singapore. pic.twitter.com/ceCTkod17D— Amit Malviya (@malviyamit) March 26, 2018
But even as political slugfests, allegations and counter allegations continue over misuse of Facebook data and data through NaMo app, Modi has asked BJP MPs to redouble their efforts on Facebook.
It defies logic that Modi should have asked each party MP to generate at least 3,00,000 "genuine" likes on their Facebook page as a yardstick of their performance and to connect with voters amid the raging controversy over Facebook in India and abroad.
Modi's advice to BJP MPs came at a dinner party on Friday. Modi even offered incentives telling MPs that he would hold live video calls with party workers in their constituencies if they, reached the 300,000 targets.
What's funny is that Modi asked MPs to get "genuine" likes and not likes "bought" through marketing companies offering such services. Well, he should know that allegations of "paid" Facebook and Twitter followers have chased him since he became prime minister.
There is nothing wrong per se in asking MPs to increase their presence on Facebook and other social media platforms. Social media helps parliamentarians connect with their voters who are young and active users of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
However, there are two issues of concerns here.
One, it shows Modi's fascination with and his overdependence on social media and app-based platforms to connect with the people at the cost of traditional, time-tested personal methods of communication.
Two, Modi is not concerned about the likely misuse of data, and protecting the privacy of people at a time when Facebook is embroiled in a raging worldwide scandal over Cambridge Analytica. The prime minister is not bothered that Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are accused of breach of data for election fixing and political purposes in India too.
Modi must ask his law and IT minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, to take note and see how Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday took out full- page ads in British and American newspapers to apologise for the "breach of trust" in the scandal.
Facebook took out full page ads in the NYT, WSJ, WashPost, and 6 UK papers today https://t.co/kMA822kTpU pic.twitter.com/CUEYwyWuTT— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 25, 2018
What happened to Ravi Shankar Prasad's bravado on summoning Zuckerberg to India? Why has Zuckerberg ignored India's concern over "breach of trust"?
But how can Modi be tough on Facebook when he supports millions of genuine and fake accounts, and army of trolls to derive political mileage?
Modi's advice to party MPs to work hard to get at least 3,00,000 likes also reflects distortions and misplaced priorities of the current political discourse in the country.
The two main political parties - the BJP and the Congress - have diverted their attention to wooing voters through social media platforms more than through traditional methods of making contacts. Instead of asking their MPs to visit their constituencies to solve the problems of the people, they are being encouraged to spend time on smart phones.
The lure of "likes" can be irresistible for Modi and Rahul as over 10 million or one crore new voters will be eligible to cast votes in 2019. However, they forget that the power of mass mobilisation through grass-root contacts with people who are dissatisfied with government's performance can be more effective in redressal of problems and appearing concerned.
It's obvious Modi and other political parties haven't learnt their lessons from the recent Farmers Long March of Maharashtra and the JNU's faculty and students' determined protests in Delhi.
The way farmers and students reclaimed the streets and the manner in which farmers brought the BJP-Shiv Sena government to its heel portends a dangerous signal for the government in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
Farmers of Maharashtra showed the way when they marched for a week from Nasik under the blistering sun to reach Mumbai to lodge their protest. The BJP government understood the anger of over 40,000 farmers and agreed to meet their demands.
Students and teachers of JNU faced police lathi charge, water cannons, in which many, including female students sustained injuries, to protest against the authoritarian conduct of the university administration.
Modi should be wary of the rising discontent of students, farmers and workers in informal sectors. Their discontent has begun to boil over and is turning into anger. The anger was reflected in the results of the by-elections in UP and Bihar and Rajasthan.
Social media can help drive the election campaign but in a limited way. NaMO app and race to get Facebook likes will not win the 2019 election for Modi.