[Original post June 2017, Updated June 2020]
The recent book I am a Troll: Inside the secret world of the BJP’s Digital Army was instrumental in exposing a trend in India which had been going on for the past few years – that of the BJP (and its co-ideologists like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – RSS) using thousands of young men and women to spread propaganda including fake news and fake history, and also to harass those who argue against their versions of events both present and past.
[See this post for reliable accounts to follow for information on healthcare and Covid in India]
What this epidemic of epic-scale propaganda and fake news does to us common citizens is that we most often are not aware of the actual state of affairs and the reality on the ground – being so bombarded with tweets and FB posts and ‘godi media‘ news purveying blatantly fake to insidiously distorted information. The good news is that some people have decided to do something about this, often at great mental harassment and financial loss to themselves. The purpose of this post is to provide a one-stop reference list of such people and organisations – Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as websites.
A note on that oft-mentioned concept of ‘bias’: When presented with news or opinions or evidence which does not project our favorite politicians or parties or ideologies in good light, we often reject it outright and claim it to be ‘biased’, but we forget that we ourselves could also be equally or even more biased. Besides, biases are very common, but what is less common today is adherence to basic human values of decency, tolerance, compassion, empathy. I urge readers not to think that the following sources as 100% ‘unbiased’ or anything. That is unhelpful, and is only a simple escape route for those who don’t want to hear anything that goes against their own ideas and beliefs.
These sources are to be better used for accounts and versions and analyses which are different from the dominant versions and narratives, including govt propaganda. There is no insistence on accepting wholly the perspectives these sources present, but there is a request to read and understand them and then decide for oneself as to what exactly is going on around. In my experience, these sopurces present the most complete and accurate versions of information, and I highly recommend trusting them – definitely far more trustworthy and imandar than the Arnab Goswamis and the bol-bachchan netas we have elected.
Note no 2: A request to NOT TRUST ever the highly divisive, communal, and logic-bereft channels of OpIndia and Swarajya – and their countless avatars like True Indology, etc. Once you begin following the accounts mentioned below, you will come across several instances of how destructive the above propaganda websites have been for the country and its people.
Pratik Sinha: I personally admire this person for the fearless way in which he works to empower citizens and expose the workings of politicians, their supporters and the government IT cell machinery. Sinha is a seasoned activist and I urge people to follow him on social media.
Sinha’s Facebook, Sinha’s Twitter
AltNews: This is an initiative co-founded by Pratik Sinha which, among other things, provides systematic evidence against the major propaganda and fake news websites being trusted currently by millions of Indians. Their Twitter feed here.
As good examples of their work, here’s one of their stories on TrueIndology, which spreads false ‘knowledge’ about Hinduism, and here’s a story where they expose one among the numerous, consistent fake claims by the Government of India.
If you are on Reddit, absolutely follow the space r/India – (and stay away from the idiocy- and fakery-filled r/indiaspeaks!). The best thing about r/india is that you come across hundreds of ordinary young Indians who have sophisticated, well-argued, rational-minded takes on all kinds of matters – politics, science, religion, life. This is truly a great space where one can see a glimpse of an inclusive, intelligent, tolerant, secular India: an India which seems to have been lost for now, especially when we look at mainstream TV media and the sucking-up by celebrities to the powers-that-be.
Shriranjan Awate (esp for Marathi speakers)
P. Sainath and PARI: Sainath has been an exceptional journalist for decades now, and his reporting on rural India is always impeccable. PARI, or People’s Archive of Rural India, is an initiative he founded, and in their stories we get a better sense of the lives of rural Indians and of the effects of government policies on them.
PARI website, FB, Twitter
Official PeeingHuman does an amazing job at compiling excerpts from India’s propagandist mainstream media and creating satirical memes out of those. Besides, these videos lay open the blatant non-sense that goes on in the name of patriotism in India today. YouTube channel here, and Twitter here.
More Twitter accounts of smart, decent journalists and other commentators to follow:
Saahil Murali Menghani