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Tech for Democracy
Thu Jan 31, 7:30 PM
Tech for Democracy a Talk by Y. Kiran Chandra

The months of November and December 2018 were abuzz with political discussions and discussions all over the social media very intensely in the states of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana. These elections were considered to be the semifinals to the General Elections to be held in the first half of 2019. Soon we shall see intense political discussions and discourses in social media across the country. It is important for us to see if this is going to be another tool for the subversion of the democratic process?
In India, we have witnessed certain methods pursued by a large section of the political parties that consistently subvert the electoral process to ensure their victories. The conventional methods included distribution of money to voters, unleashing violence, polarising people based on caste, religion, region etc. Now political parties are betting big on the usage of social media, at least the two mainstream political parties at the national level. The ruling party is far ahead with infrastructure in place, having an IT wing and a troll army comprising of their activists. The president of BJP has even claimed publicly that they are now in a position to trend whatever they decided to trend! Is it just because they have the numbers to do it? The answer to this question is not trivial and just having the troll army or the numbers isn’t sufficient enough to become influential in dealing with the new avenues of technology and fresh ways of utilizing media such as instant messaging, micro-blogging and social networks. These platforms themselves, in social medium also facilitate this process for a cost. This is a key aspect in which the subversion of the electoral process is going to be in 2019.
In hindsight, when we look at the General elections of 2014, they were very different from the preceding elections. It was for the first time that internet as a medium was also crucial in deciding the fate of the contestants in at least 160 parliament seats. The availability of the “smart phone” in the 2014 elections was limited to the rich, urban middle class and rural elite. In-spite of this limitation, the number of interactions among people was staggering. According to Facebook, “From the day elections were announced to the day polling ended, 29 million people conducted 227 million interactions (posts, comments, shares, and likes) regarding the elections on Facebook.”

The 2019 elections will see an exponential increase in these interactions. The interactions in 2014 were mainly through Facebook and Twitter, while the usage of WhatsApp was relatively less. With the advent of Reliance Jio and the falling mobile data rates, internet penetration has almost doubled now and we have close to 40 Cr smart phone users in India today. The total number of WhatsApp users in 2014 May was close to 5 Cr while now it is above 25 Cr. Now the total user base of WhatsApp supersedes any other platform. However, Facebook owns WhatsApp and it is evident that Facebook holds most of the information. The consequence of this increase in number will have an impact on the interactions and will be staggering. All the interactions on these platforms reside in the servers of these platforms even if the user removes it. The behavioural patterns of the users has been profiled by these platforms and are being sold for advertisers as audience by these platforms. Forbes estimated that WhatsApp’s total revenue will be $5 billion and the average revenue per user to be $4 by 2020. As of February 2018, WhatsApp had over 1.5 billion users and sees 60 billion messages sent per day, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Q4 2017 conference call. Billions of dollars of revenue come to these platforms by the selling the information generated by the users in these platforms.

About the Speaker:
Mr Y. Kiran Chandra is the General Secretary Free Software Movement of India, A national coalition of organisations working
for free software, free knowledge and free society.
Founding member and Chairman, Swecha, A free software Initiative working on developing and
building free software infrastructure on a movement mode. Involves significant interventions in local
language computing, policy change in curriculum, deployment, training and development of free
software along with work on issues of patents and copyright
Associated with policy level changes in imparting free software based computer education in
schools. Building and incubating FOSS delivery models.
Worked as a consultant for media houses on services over the internet.
Extensively toured India for the propagation of free software and nurture building of free software
Is an active proponent of Digital Freedom and has been in the forefront of the struggles against 66A
Free basics and other issues.
Have been actively campaigning on the issues of internet surveillance.