Beyond Arnab Goswami’s Arrest: Worrying Implication of Automated Hate Factories
The arrest of Arnab Goswami, founder of Republic TV channel, has predictably triggered a highly polarised reaction, in the media as well as the political establishment. There are many things wrong with the arrest, starting with the fact that he has been singled out, when there were three names in the suicide note, and all the facts and financial details have not been investigated before initiating such drastic action. Ironically, Mr Goswami himself had aggressively demanded the arrest of a young actress on even flimsier evidence and she ended up spending a month in jail. 
The issues are a toxic combination of multiple factors and go much beyond the arrest of Mr Goswami. One, rigging of television rating points (TRPs) to falsely claim high viewership and send wrong signals about public thinking. Two, highly partisan, manipulative and even abusive propaganda broadcast to discredit individuals and politicians to favour specific political parties —this cuts across channels and is not limited to Republic TV. Three, hate factories flourishing on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that target people at will with their automated and weaponised posts of vilification and slander. While individuals and even private institutions have no recourse against such abuse, the police and the government can, indeed, take action. And they have—leading to an all-out war. Just consider the facts in the run up to Mr Goswami’s arrest.
Targeting the Police 
The Mumbai police, its commissioner and specific political leaders have been the target of systematic vilification for some time now. The facts, as claimed by the police in a note, are astonishing. According to a note by the Mumbai police on 3rd November, its investigation into tweets and posts after the suicide by actor Sushant Singh Rajput (on 14 June 2020) came up with some astonishing evidence. The police investigated ‘lakhs’ of tweets that began to trend negative comments about the Mumbai police, the police commissioner and the Maharashtra government with specific hashtags. The police cyber and forensic team investigated hashtags and tweets directed at the accounts in the image below between June and October 2020.
The findings are shocking. The cyber team found tweets from over 150,000 twitter accounts, of which 80%, it says, were ‘suspicious’ and sending out a fusillade of negative tweets. Further investigation revealed that these were ‘bots’ or fake accounts created or operated from proxy servers in different countries such as China, Panama, Nepal and Hong Kong. 
A fake twitter account in the name of actress Raveena Tandon that was posting defamatory comments was also found to be a bot. These are software tools deployed to send out hundreds and thousands of tweets masquerading as real persons. They can be programmed to tweet, re-tweet and follow other accounts and are sent out from proxy servers, to ensure anonymity. 
When the police tracked a few IP addresses from India, these too were discovered to be bots. Basically, even the cyber and forensic experts of the police have failed to zero in on individuals or entities in India who are responsible for the malicious twitter propaganda unleashed against them, as yet. But they have established that the trending #hashtags were, indeed, part of a targeted action to spread slander and create suspicion about targets; these are not the genuine opinion of millions of social media users. The nature of hashtags also made it clear that this was politically motivated. 
While the investigation continues, it has flagged many suspicious accounts to Twitter and called for details. It will be interesting to see if Twitter cooperates with the Mumbai police or stonewalls it by citing global policies, like it does with most victims of such targeting. According to the police, thousands of these virulent accounts and bots are being deleted to wipe clean the trail. It is important to remember that the police are an interested party here and its findings must stand scrutiny in a court. 
If the police cyber crime department has drawn a blank identifying the root of the hate and defamation, imagine how much harder it is for individuals to force Twitter, Facebook or YouTube to be made accountable. 
The Mumbai police have also been under pressure from its own rank and file, as well as retired police officers, to respond to the calumny which was gleefully amplified and broadcast by certain television channels. Five top police officers (all retired) filed a public interest litigation (PIL) accusing the media of “indulging in biased coverage of the incident and trying to influence the probe by creating false propaganda.” The PIL says that the media has “created an air of suspicion in the minds of general public as to the facts of the case under investigation and also about the Mumbai Police, health services and other support services of the state.” 
The irony is that political parties adept at deploying bots have also managed to discredit journalists, academic institutions, social organisations and large swathes of the Bollywood too. Those used as propaganda tools are probably participating in their own disgrace for a price.
Possibly, the original idea may have been to target specific individuals; but orchestrated mischief can often boomerang and go out of control when followers fail to understand the design. The coordinated hysteria and falsehoods surrounding the death of Sushant Singh Rajput now appears to be a social media experiment gone horribly wrong. Sections of the media transgressed all ethical boundaries and journalistic norms in fomenting trouble and some are paying the price.
All this probably led to police deploying regular policing methods to open several parallel investigations against those who were foolish enough to post defamatory material without hiding identities. The allegation about rigging of TRPs by certain channels like Republic TV and the two-year-old suicide note were also handy tools. It is, however, both perplexing and disingenuous for any political party to attack the police to settle scores with a ruling government and, probably, the first time it has happened on such a scale. 
Unfortunately, the retaliatory action by the police is equally chilling. It has the potential to become a highly misused template across India; anyone could be a target of trumped up charges and worse. Consider this. 
  • Delhi-based lawyer Vibhor Anand, with a history of virulent trolling, got bail on 2nd November after over 15 days in custody, only after tendering an abject apology, expressing repentance in court and promising not to repeat the offence. He also pleaded mental instability and alcohol abuse. He was accused of posting vile, slanderous, virulent and defamatory messages with respect to the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. He also said he was influenced by television channels and named Republic Bharat among them. 
  • Nagpur resident Sameet Thakkar was not only arrested twice for posting ‘objectionable’ comments but also paraded like a hardened criminal with hands tied and face covered, despite clear court orders that prohibit it. He remains in custody. 
  • On 5th November, The Times of India reported that a 38-year-old lawyer was arrested for a ‘derogatory’ post and morphed images of the ruling coalition leaders, on a complaint filed by a political worker. 
Diabolical targeting and slander cannot go unpunished. But indiscriminate arrests could lead to bigger problems. It is important to recollect that ‘encounters’ by the police were initially welcomed by people and businessmen hounded by extortion and killings by the underworld, until they went out of hand. 
Broadcast media also needs urgent introspection and self-regulation. As the primary source of news and information today, it has played an active role in obliterating the distinction between serious, legitimate, investigative reportage and brazenly partisan opinions, propaganda and aggressive invasion of privacy that passes off as ‘breaking news’. This has to end. 
As a society, we also need to demand greater transparency, regulation and accountability for social media giants like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter that thrive on engagement created by hate factories and actively protect the anonymity of those profiting from automated and targeted slander as a business. With over 100 million active users everyday sending out 500 million tweets, this uncontrolled machine has the potential to rip us apart as a society. 

10 months ago
Law of natural Justice is bail is the norm and jail is an exception. Does a case wound up in 2018 require custody??. Then what basis it was closed in 2018. First interrogate police officers who closed the case in 2018. They should be taken into custody first... justice chandrachud rightly questioned high court in this regard.

10 months ago
Right Wind Party IT Cell is spreading toxicity in India. Like Trumpeteers in USA.
10 months ago
Thew whole truth on Arnab,etc is far from out.Give Modisaheb and Amit Shah 6 months and then worth talking of what happened to Arnab etc is right or wrong.
Ramesh Popat
10 months ago
There are number of successful attempts in media(tv,print,cinema etc) to mislead
public which go unnoticed. Slow (damages to culture) damages go much farther.
Too many such attempts micro planned attempts destroys value of the country.
And the conspiracy working too well. Not political but erosion of culture in the
media is in full swing. Mesmerizing, aesthetically they finish the roots. People
never know they are skillfully tortured in the name of entertainment.
This is too much serious than Arnab. Will someone take notice?!
Replied to Ramesh Popat comment 10 months ago
Judges of India sitting at High Courts and Supreme Court of India Save Skin of ilk of Vijay Mallya and Chanda Kochhar and Arnab Goswami.... I am Babubhai Vaghela from Ahmedabad on Whatsapp Number 9409475783. Thanks.
10 months ago
Compelling case you make Sucheta. Well said.

However, the less we regulate the social media the better off we will be. We could put the onus on all social media channels to ensure that the accounts are humans (or natural persons as The Act says) and not bots. The weak have no other means of a writ petition these days other an appeal on such a medium to raise a concern. I recall a desperate lady who appealed for a passport and Sushma Swaraj had swung into action to issue one. In this case though, I admit that I’m quite pleased that they found some means to lock Goswami up. At least until Deepavali ends, I pray he remains there; the noise levels are already down.

Every time we bring up freedom of speech (& I believe we have poor standards on this freedom), the political leaders go into a frenzy drawing comparisons with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc. We should compare ourselves with the UK & US on such matters. We have a very sensitive political dispensation that does not take a joke. They have gone after every humour channel that is not favourable to the establishment.

We have a long way to go. We can take pride of course in overstating that we are still a _young_ nation that’s only 73 years old.
10 months ago
My respect for Arnab fell to disrespect when I came to know, he did not pay his creditor who committed suicide.
Replied to madhukarsheth comment 10 months ago
Please note Arnab had already paid 90% of the contract. Anyone who had done business will know that 90% would cover the Architects expenses plus some profit. His dues from Arnab was 55 lakhs but some person from minority community had outstanding dues over 5 crores which was not highlighted in the media. Even opening of old case was not done as per procedure and Home minister comes and tells friendly media that team of 40 was established to look into the case and arrest Arnab as if he is terrorist or criminal. This is pure Vendetta and the present government has lost credibility but they may be thinking that elections are not to be held in near future .
Replied to DVN comment 10 months ago
Do you also accept 90% payment for the jobs you do? Or if salaried, you should start accepting 90% salary. OK????
Replied to madhukarsheth comment 10 months ago
Whether Arnab Goswami or Chanda Kochhar or Donald Trump or Indira Gandhi or Hitler, Extremism does Not Last Very Long and the Ones who Indulge in Extremism are Made to Pay the Price. I am Babubhai Vaghela from Ahmedabad Aged 72 from Ahmedabad. Thanks.
10 months ago
Pretty Interesting Reading. I am Babubhai Vaghela from Ahmedabad. Thanks.
10 months ago
Why don't you mention here that Maharashtra police intentionally with malice summoned editors of Republic TV stating that it's name is mentioned in FIR lodged by Hansa Research, whereas it was INDIA TODAY mentioned in the FIR.
Replied to pankajpandya58 comment 10 months ago
correct and hansa research was pressurized to implicate Republic
10 months ago
H L Mencken to wit: Human life is basically a comedy.

On a more serious note, broadcast journalism has devolved into a circus, a comedy central of sorts, displacing many stand up comedians. Yes, it's sad that broadcast journalism isn't what it used to be - a source of news, proper news. It's a source of entertainment now, a new genre if you will. What used to be a staid profession is now bathed in glamour, sensationalism, and propaganda. This is how Fox News constructed a Frankenstein.

Editors are the gatekeepers of quality and facts. We do not see this in social media - at all. Twitter will not remove factually wrong tweets. It only "flags" them. It's inconceivable for an editor of a newspaper print nudes and "flag" it as pornographic, and have the readers make up their minds (nevermind a 6 year old kid picking it up at a stall).

Unfortunately, social media giants (or is it Big Tech?) don't care. Should they though? The problem isn't their morality or righteousness, or accountability (or lack thereof). It's their business model. Clicks. Clicks. Clicks. Tweet. Tweet. Like. Like. Follow. Friend. Bots are part of their algorithm. The more, the merrier. Their profitability is predicated on such metrics. This makes it easy to game the system and use it for nefarious purposes.

Should platforms be regulated? I don't know. It's like asking owner of a venue to ensure that Trump doesn't spout misinformation at a campaign event. I agree that social media platforms need to do something to combat the vitriol. It's getting out of control. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is more relevant today than ever.

Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were right. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Philip K Dick, the genius science-fiction author, who was way ahead of his time and correctly predicted, indirectly, through his brilliant novels, the state of the world we're living in now. Of course, there's Shakespeare.
Replied to adityag comment 10 months ago
When people are bombarded with Alt-facts & Post-truths then the foundations of Satyameva Jayate are threatened.
10 months ago
Well. The other two persons in the suicide note of Mr. Naik were arrested next day. But because they are not as marketable to the Media, their arrest only appeared in a corner of the media.
I was surprised that Moneylife was not aware of the arrests of the other two who drove Naik to suicide.
Moneylife must cover that as soon as possible.
10 months ago
Root Cause Analysis?

1) We do not have a product or service like Twitter or Facebook of Indian origin as yet. I find this astonishing. It is in line with the hidden opaque ownership of mainstream Indian media,

2) Bots are easy to spot and "eliminate" on a regular real time basis. Even externally. Automated. From India. As easy as they can be and are misused. The days of old computers being wiped clean and used are over.

3) Transparency in media in India is a joke (present company excluded). It starts from there. This solution comes from the Finance Ministry and needs to be implemented top-down. A few PMLA cases are well over-due.

4) Freedom of the Press is the most misused phrase in India especially by anybody who has managed a PIB or some sort of PRESS card. The mainstream media, all sides, not just binary, are now part of a huge experiment headed towards mind control.

So be it. Blocking social media may not be a bad idea every now and then with a reset button somewhere. There are ways.
10 months ago
For once, I can't agree with Ms Sucheta. What is the root cause of the present day evils? Why are people on the street get upset. Bots, fake ids are secondary issues. Right questions to wrong people & wrong questions to right people will always get the same result.
Replied to mahesh.kalkar comment 10 months ago
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