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Operation Blue Virus by Cobrapost details the kind of services offered by IT companies for a fee. Operation Blue Virus, an undercover investigation by Cobrapost, shows how IT companies across the country are engaged in a racket of reputation management, offering fake fan-following on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and negative publicity to sully the reputation of a political leader, or a corporate house, for money. Among their clients are corporate houses, big or small, NGOs, scam-tainted senior government officials, individual politicians and political parties.

Posing as a front man for an imagined politician from an opposition party, Cobrapost Associate Editor Syed Masroor Hasan, approached over two dozen IT companies. The Request:

Netaji, his master, wants to launch a campaign on social media before coming assembly elections. But his opponent’s reputation has to be destroyed with negative publicity, simultaneously. This will help Netaji win not only assembly election with a handsome margin but also a Lok Sabha ticket in parliamentary elections due in 2014, and then a Cabinet berth. Budget is not a problem.

While it is hardly surprising that IT companies readily agreed to create fan followings, the shocker is that none of the companies refused to destroy the reputation of his supposed political opponent. Unsurprisingly, some offered to hire journalists or even detectives to throw muck at Netaji’s opponent. But utterly unbelievable are offerings of services like buying votes of the poor and spreading rumours or exploding a bomb to force a particular minority community stay indoors on polling day, so bogus votes could be cast. The asking price for these reputation management services ranged from a few lakhs to a couple of crores, to be paid in cash.

Many of these malpractices violate various laws, such as the Information Technology Act 2000, the Representation of the People Act 1951 and the Income Tax Act 1961, and are as such punishable under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Operation Blue Virus reveals that if the claims of the companies exposed are to be believed, among political parties, BJP is at the forefront in social media campaign, so is its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, with scores of companies working overtime for him. This puts a question mark on the claims of the BJP leadership that there is a wind blowing in favour of their party and Narendra Modi. The larger-than-life-image that Team Modi has assiduously carved out for Modi over the past one decade may not be that real, rather invented, and is reminiscent of the Goebbellian propaganda, to sway the opinion of gullible public. It is no surprise then that even a milder criticism of the BJP’s star campaigner invites scathing attacks from his followers on social media, claimed to be in millions in count.

However, more disturbing is the use of social media for fanning communal sentiments by vested interests. Social media has its share of blame for riots in Muzaffar Nagar or the exodus of Northeastern ‘Chinis’ from cities across India. What requires to be done in the wake of Operation Blue Virus is a thorough investigation into the functioning of the IT companies in question and bring them to justice and a revisit of country’s cyber laws to plug the loopholes, both in letter and in implementation,  without impinging on freedom of speech. Otherwise, it will be not too long before social media, ubiquitous, unbridled and untamed, becomes the bane of society with all its attendant ills.

IT Companies exposed in the sting:

Bipin Pathare, Om Consultancy Services, Andheri East, Mumbai

Ab ye dekho ismein na ismein kitne part hain ek hai part Adiba karke na … aap maloom hoga aapko ki itna Adiba ka hai 233 Adiba ka hai … toh aapko suppose iska voter dekhne ka hai kitna 112 mein toh aapko voters milenge … kitne voters hain … haan 1141 hain" Read More about illegal IT services Bipin Patare of Om Consultancy offered

Trikam Patel, Co-Founder, Triams, Bangalore

Uske liye kya hai na shaitan dimaag chahiye hota hai … wo thode aise hi gunda gardi log rehte hain na wo hi karte hain … ye jo iske liye detective agencies hain unko kaafi doston ko bhi jaanta hoon wahan pe unke … mere clients hain websites wagaireh maine banaye hue hain … unko main approach karke ek do bando ko laga doonga … toh dheere dheere se unka kya subject hai kahan pe jaate hain kahan pe aate hain … unke personal relations kuan hai kya hai … poore jo  bhi jaankari hum logon ko dete hain wo hum log database mein store karte hainRead more about illegal IT offerings by Trikam Patel of Triams

Abhishek Kumar, Virinchi Software, Patparganj, Delhi

"Inka jo Rahul Gandhi aur … Mittal inki ek purani friend thi … uska thoda kuch hai … usko inhone bana liya ki gangrape hua hai … usne shayad kuch case bhi kiya tha … wo hi toh hai neeche likha hua ye sab baatein jo hain" Read more Abhishek Kumar of Virinchi Software describing workings of slander

Vivek Arora, Prismartec,  Nand Dham Industrial Estate, Marol Maroshi Road, Andheri East, Mumbai

"Hum ek random blogger create kar denge wo bhi US se directly … aur Facebook pe Facebook pe aaj jitna yahan pe negative publicity karoon main agar doosre jo aap layenge humare saamne ki bhai ye thoda sa mudda uthayein jo negative usko aap uthayein … wo hum yahan pe uthayenge usko" Read more from Vivek Arora's idea of IT services

Vishal Saini;  Harmeet Singh, Webstreaks, Derawal Nagar, New Delhi

"Negative chahiye uske andar … agar wo Congress hai toh BJP ki nikali jayegi .... Viral marketing ke liye ek bilkul fake ID … laptop assembled" Read more on how to trash competitors

Sanjeev Singh; Ravi Agarwal, Webolaxy, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi

"Wo Sir itni profile bana denge itni profile bana denge Internet pe itni profile … kum se kum … log honge chaar hazar Facebook pe negativity daalenge" Read more on how perceptions of widespread negative image are invented

Agam Panwar and Rakesh, Blue Sapphire Creations, Lajpat Nagar, Delhi

… humne kai logon ke ORM kiye hain  … jaise humare Google pe kisi ka galat naam aa gaya ki bhai ismein ye corruption hai funs gaya kaam … ye iss officer ne chori kiye hain … usko saaf karne ka kaam jo hai wo humne kiya … usko saaf karne ka kaam jo hai wo humne kiya hai …" more on how to clean scam stains

Priyadarshan Pathak, Websol Media, Railway Road, Gurgaon

Rohit Mahajan, Director; Mohit Mahajan, Director; Shwetank Pathak (Sales Head); Vikas Chopra (Sr. Team Leader), Cloudmay India, Sector 16, Noida, Uttar PradeshR.N. Sangwan, Managing Director; Amit, Alliance Softech, Dwarka, New Delhi

Fuad Mandlik, Director, Live Pages Infotech, Goregaon, Mumbai

Neeraj Kumar, Valuebound Interactive Solutions, Koramangala, Bangalore

Smeeta Thakare, Creative Head; Vipin Patil, Business Head, Integerz e-Business Solutions, Borivali, Mumbai

Tusar Kumar, Business Development Manager; Pratik Chaudhry, Creative Head; Richie Chauhan, Executive Vice President, Tekege Solutions/Ergo Agency, Shapur Jat, New Delhi

Prashanth Maxim Sequeira, CEO and MD, Arokia IT Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore, Karnataka

Prateek Patel, Director, Unlock Technologies, Mahiveer Nagar, Kandivali West, Mumbai

Atul Tibrewala, Managing Director, E-Vision Technologies, Main Avenue, Santacruz-West, Mumbai

Pradeep Gupta, PageUp Media Technologies, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh

Deepak Malik, Business Consultanant; Pawan, Chief Technical officer, NS Technologies, Sector 10, Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Mahendra Bedekar, Creative Head; Amrut Patki, Senior Visualizer; Suraj Naik, Manager (Human Resources–Admin); Neeraj, Business Development Head, Tridat Technologies Pvt. Ltd.,  Byculla, Mumbai

Neeraj Sinha, Torus Infotech, Azadpur, Delhi

Abdul Vasi, Director, HostCats, RT Nagar, Bangalore

Update: Since this post was written, Cobrapost have done several more stings exposing deep rooted wrongs in India. From social media services for political parties to spread disinformation, slander or rig elections, to confessions of brutal murders of dalits who have been getting acquited in case after case. Today Cobrapost has exposed the "Love jihad" - a Hindutva conspiracy to intimidate couples where a Hindu girl marries a boy of another religion with shocking confessions ranging from kidnapping and assault to intimidation, threats against family, false charges of rape and even the drugging of Hindu girls.

Cobrapost and Gulail have come up with a devastating video sting of Amit Shah's misuse of state machinery on the orders of Narendra Modi in surveilling a woman for a month. The sting covers almost an hour and includes over half an hour of taped phone conversations that show the extent of surveillance. (separate post on the sting will follow). Here is the video:

The article that follows, I had written after Operation Red Spider, also by Cobrapost.

Aniruddha Bahal and Cobrapost have come up with a devastating video sting - Operation Red Spider, in which they have exposed money laundering facilities offered by top banks HDFC, ICICI and Axis. The clear implication is a nationwide moneylaundering scam. The shocking expose was done with the help of one editor Syed Masroor Hasan and was simple. Syed walked into various branches of these banks saying he was acting on behalf of a politician who had a lot of black money he needed laundered. What followed is history. Bank officials not only readily agreed to it, they provided various strategies like bonds, deposits and gold in gross violations of the Income Tax Act, FEMA. As I write, news comes in that RBI is going to investigate the banks exposed by Operation Red Spider.

Aniruddha Bahal and his cobrapost.com have been doing spectacular video stings consistently. Some of their earlier work includes:

2011 Cobrapost had done the Bollywood Black Money video stings in partnership with CNN where top Bollywood producers and directors revealed on camera how black money funds their films and how they launder it for their investors.

2007 - Operation Guru Dakshina exposed illegal dealings in school admissions.

2006 - Haj Applications Scam exposed how Mumtaz Ahmed blatantly agreed to rig the lottery system for selecting Haj applications for a price.

2005 Operation Duryodhana captured on camera 11 MPs accepting money to table questions on the floor of the Parliament (10 - Lok Sabha, 1 - Rajya Sabha) - 7 BJP, 2 BSP, 1 INC, 1 RJD. The members were all expelled:

  • Narendra Kushwaha (BSP) - Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh: Rs 55,000
  • Annasaheb M. K. Patil (BJP) - Erandol, Maharashtra: Rs 45,000
  • Chhatrapal Singh Lodha (BJP) - Odisha (Rajya Sabha) : Rs 15,000
  • Y. G. Mahajan (BJP) - Jalgaon, Maharashtra: Rs 35,000
  • Manoj Kumar (Rashtriya Janata Dal) - Palamau, Jharkand: Rs 110,000
  • Suresh Chandel (BJP) - Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh: Rs 30,000
  • Raja Ram Pal (BSP) - Bilhaur, Uttar Pradesh : Rs 35,000
  • Lal Chandra Kol (BJP) - Robertsganj, Uttar Pradesh: Rs 35,000
  • Pradeep Gandhi (BJP) - Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh: Rs 55,000
  • Chandra Pratap Singh (BJP) - Sidhi, Madhya Pradesh : Rs 35,000
  • Ramsevak Singh (Congress) - Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh: Rs 50,000

2000 - Operation West End in collaboration with Matthew Samuels (in Tehelka) exposed irregularities in defense procurements and resulted in the resignation of the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, defence minister George Fernandes. This was followed by an mega witchhunt of Tehelka by the ruling BJP government which shut it down.

1997 - Match-fixing sting - he was the first journalist anywhere in the world to expose the shady world of match-fixing in an expose that rattled the cricket world. Remember the end of Azaruddin?

Imagine my astonishment when the sole award to his name on Wikipedia is one for Bad Sex In Literature. Not joking. Cobrapost doesn't even have a page on Wikipedia. And we wonder why corruption is so difficult to end in a world where controversial corporations sponsor journalism awards and political parties have understandings with corporate owned media?

I had written this post for another website earlier, but it doesn't seem to have been published.