The last Lok Sabha election saw Narendra Modi and the BJP-RSS-VHP Hindutva combine manipulate social media intelligently to decimate a less media-savvy Congress. But with Modi as 'boss' and rabid Hindutva leaders and mobs swaggering about in storm-trooper mode, social disenchantment is on the rise as evidenced by the reactions to authoritarian moves by the saffron brigade like the beef ban, Dadri lynching, the temporary ban on porn sites, the takeover of the FTII and the cutting off of Internet across Gujarat in the wake of the Patel stir.
By and large, the social protest activists in India rely on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to gather their forces. Examples of satirical social media protesters against the Hindutva regime are the Beef Janata Party and The Unofficial Subramaniam Swamy (Su Su Swamy) pages on Facebook. In Gujarat, the Patels using WhatsApp to foment uprising was met with the switching off of mobile internet by the government.
What other social media apps might the government and protesters use â€“ the former to crush dissent and the latter to foment dissent?
The government might take a lesson from Russia where the Center for Research in Legitimacy and Political Protest, a pro-Putin think tank, has developed software to scour Russian social media posts for signs of plans by the political opposition to stage unapproved protests or meetings. It is named "Laplace's demon" after the theoretical all-seeing intellect that could calculate the future of the universe based on the position and state of all matter.
In India, which has a strong hacker base, there is little or no development of powerful social protest apps as in other places â€“ the Arab Spring nations, Ukraine, Venzuela, Hong Kong, etc. â€“where dissenters want their voices heard both locally and globally, even in the face of the internet being shut down.
The Arab Spring depended on Facebook and Twitter or SMS text messages till protesters realised these media could be used against them. Later, more sophisticated toolkits were deployed.
One such tool is Zello (https://zello.com), which is like a digital walkie-talkie that allows the creation of a channel in which you can have tens or even hundreds of people. This was successfully used in Ukraine, Turkey and Venezuela by protesters to gather and demonstrate. Brazilian protest apps include the dissonant noise-maker "Cooking Pots & Vuvuzela," which has between 10,000 and 50,000 downloads in the Google Play store.
Then there are text-based apps like Wickr or Silent Circle used both by protesters and journalists in touch with 'undesirable' activists. Texts received via Wickr are encrypted. Silent Circle text messages, somewhat like Snapchat, will erase and disappear not long after you have received them.
Other apps that help protesters who take to the streets include Find My Friends, which tracks your friends and shows you where they are in the protest area map, and I'm Getting Arrested which with a click sends an alert to your friends, family, and lawyer when you're busted!
Another useful app is Obscura Cam, which allows you to make those bystanders in your photo or video anonymous, thereby protecting their identity. It also removes your geolocation, phone make and model, and other metadata from the file. Finally, there is Ustream's broadcasting app which lets you broadcast your protest experience on a variety of social channels.
But now, the time is ripe for freedom-loving Indian developers to design and deploy a set of desi social protest apps that can mobilise the 'power of the mobile many' into 'smart mobs', as Howard Rheingold terms such protesters, who may yet act as a decisive counter to the SMS and Whatsapp-driven Hindutva 'lynch mobs' and the Sanghi trolls on Facebook and Twitter.
[Disclaimer: The writer is a senior journalist with IBT. This article reflects the writer's personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of IBTimes India.]