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Cobrapost Investigation
“I Can Update Your Laptop Using My Laptop Sitting Anywhere...”
"I will create 50 websites with the help of Trojan Faking that automatically opens the other sites on other computer systems."
COMMENTS PRINT
Cobrapost Investigation
No social media space in this election season is sacred. It’s a playground for manipulation—routine and vile. Any IT firm does it for a price.
Syed Masroor Hasan
Cobrapost Investigation
From setting off a bomb to creating panic, it’s all fixed
Cobrapost Investigation
Our fake company was maligned ably for less than a lakh

“Planning to make ‘damaging’ content against Rahul go viral”
Abhishek Kumar, Virinchi Software, Patparganj, Delhi

To showcase his credentials, Kumar first displays cartoons of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh posted by his team on an online message board: “Congress’s hand is always with its son-in-law (Robert Vadra).” He says his firm will do negative propaganda against the fictitious Netaji’s opponent, but by using a different tack. “You don’t have to use the same method to kill a man—we will have to see what angle we have to use.”

Kumar is running a campaign for the BJP on social media—he claims the job has been subcontracted to his company by a Bangalore-based firm. Asked if he is doing negative campaigns against the Congress, Kumar nods, “Yes.” He is, in fact, planning to make ‘damaging’ content against Rahul Gandhi go viral on social media a few days before the elections. “We are not saying anything on our own,” he says, directing us to read “the spicy stuff”.

Kumar shows another message posted by his team and reads it out: “China is invading India, forget it, only remember Modi’s Gujarat and 2002—Pakistan is invading us, beheading our soldiers on the border, forget it as well, only remember Modi’s Gujarat and 2002...1984 riots are okay...fodder scam, leave that as well...remember only Modi, Gujarat and 2002.”


“3% of Bangalore IT firms’ income comes from this kind of work”
Trikam Patel, co-founder, Triams, Bangalore

Patel makes it clear he would not allow any negative comment on our scam-tainted Netaji to appear. “If a comment is negative then we simply send the fellow a mail saying your content is invalid,” he says. In the same breath, Patel adds he would hire detectives to rake up muck against Netaji’s opponent. “You need a devil’s mind for that. I know many friends who run detective agencies, as I have developed their websites. I will approach them and get two fellows on the job,” he says. “What is the subject of his interest, where does he go, where he does come from, what are his personal relations—they will give us all kinds of information on the fellow and we will store it in our database.”

It’s clear that anything goes to push the message. “I will create 50 websites with the help of Trojan Faking that automatically opens the other sites on other computer systems. (So) comments we have written will show up there on their comments section automatically and likes will thus increase automatically.” To buttress his point, he tells the reporter: “I shall tell you how the work is done—I can update your laptop using my laptop sitting anywhere, you see, I will show it to you sitting anywhere.”

Patel has a third-party contract for Modi’s promotion campaign on social media. He claims to have met Modi once and says the job was entrusted to him by an aide of his. Triams has been doing online work for Modi for the past two-and-a-half years. According to Patel, three per cent of the income of IT companies in Bangalore is coming from this kind of political work of which the BJP is contributing a major share.


“The positive will be done by one company, negative by another”
Priyadarshan Pathak, Websol Media, Gurgaon

Pathak says he would assign our Netaji’s campaign to a Congress-baiter who is a diehard Modi fan. “I will get a fellow who hates Congress on this project of yours,” he says. The person is a dentist by profession, and apparently generates about 2,000 likes a day on his page. Pathak promptly shows us the pages of various BJP luminaries his friend has created, and calls him up asking him to come over and meet us. Pathak claims his company is also handling Modi’s campaign on social media.

Pathak says he would launch an attack on Netaji’s opponent a few days before the election, using a dongle with static IP (Internet Protocol, or a computer’s address), to avoid detection. This will allow him to conduct negative campaigns from abroad as well, he claims. This would be done, he says, by getting into an offshore system with the help of Team Viewer software. “Our client’s computer appears on our system. We can open whatever we want on his system. We can run whatever we want to run there...this is what we do.”

This is how Pathak says he can write nasty stuff about Netaji’s opponent. “There’s no need to close (our post) down, because we have not typed in our IP. In case someone comes calling on us, I can tell them, why bother me, go and catch that fellow.” He would send bulk SMS using “soft code” which makes it difficult to trace.

Similar attacks will be launched against Netaji’s opponent on Facebook and Twitter. “I’ll get them done from different companies,” he says. “The positive will be done by one company, the negative by another.” We meet Pathak again to see if he can deliver on his promise by asking him to throw up as much muck as he can against a fictitious company, Mercury Aviation. And he does not disappoint (see box). 


“Anti-Modi and anti-Rahul posts are just to make fools of people”
Rohit Mahajan, director; Mohit Mahajan, director; Shwetank Pathak, sales head; Vikas Chopra, senior team leader, Cloudmay India, Sector 16, Noida

To start with, Shwetank Pathak puts a disclaimer: “I should tell you straightaway that the kind of work you want us to do, we are already involved in that.” Cloudmay is working for the BJP. They agree with alacrity to run a negative propaganda against Netaji’s opponent, saying they’ll create a website in the name of his opponent on which all defa­matory things will be posted. Giving an example of an anti-Modi website, pheku.in, they reveal their modus operandi. Says Vikas Chopra, “We receive anti-Modi posts there—just to make fools of people. Simi­larly, we have sites to receive anti-Rahul posts.”

Mohit says they’ll put a journalist on the job to rake up all the muck against our opponent. Their own team members will throw all kinds of curses at our opponent: “Yes, they can do it. They will write (things like) shame on you, shame on you....” A couple of days later, the Cobrapost reporter meets Vikas and Mohit again, where they declare they have entered into a tie-up with FB which will spare them a staff member to work dedicatedly on the project. “We’ll make a profile for you and a page on Facebook...then we will create 20, 25, 30 pages of your fans who’ll always praise you,” says Mohit. He even offers to get at least a couple of US newspapers to carry news items on Netaji, what he calls the “paid press”. Informing us about the merits of a data management software that his team uses, Mohit claims he can gather a crowd of thousands in no time.


“An example of viral marketing is the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar”
Vishal Saini & Harmeet Singh, Webstreaks, Derawal Nagar, New Delhi

Besides the usual FB page, Harmeet sugge­sts a video to malign Netaji’s political opponent. This will be uploaded and promoted through viral marketing, chips in Vishal. As an example of this viral marketing, he cites the recent riots that took place in Muzaffar­nagar in Uttar Pradesh. “We can make a three- or three-and-a-half-minute-long video in which we will describe all his misdeeds...this will be depicted in such an artistic way that the visitors won’t get bored watching it,” says Harmeet. As for the evidence, he says, “Viral marketing against our opponent will be done using a fake ID and assembled laptop.” Both, needless to say, are easily dispensed with.

Both Vishal and Harmeet are forthcoming and give details about how the BJP had run a similar campaign against the Congress and came up triumphant. They will mention local issues in Netaji’s campaign showing the negative side of the incumbent government. Negative feedback, if any, would be immediately deleted. These likes will be generated both manually and by using a software.


“I’ve done work for politicians and even for CBI and RAW officers”
Agam Panwar and Rakesh, Blue Saphire Creations, Lajpat Nagar, Delhi

At the outset, Rakesh claims to have bailed out a scam-tainted senior army officer with his reputation management skills on social media, although he would never reveal the identity of the said officer. “We have a fellow who was getting flak on Google for being involved in a particular corruption case. This officer has done this theft, and we did this name-cleaning job for him,” says Rakesh. Panwar then goes on to make another interesting claim: “I am telling you clearly, I have done both kinds of work—for politicians and even for CBI and raw officers.”

When Cobrapost asks how they would manage to secure a fan following for Netaji, Agam says FB is the best route, and how they have helped a BJP spokesperson build a profile there. He promises to deliver one lakh likes by November. Not only do they claim their operations will remain untraceable, but also do insist they will destroy Netaji’s opponent’s reputation online. Says Agam, “If I get some news, I can make positive or negative out of it. And if you ask me to destroy the image of this man (Netaji’s opponent), I will do it...that too keeping our image clean.”


“No limit to negative publicity on Facebook that I can do, from US”
Vivek Arora, PrismArtec, Andheri East, Mumbai

To begin with, Arora will hire a good photographer, with an equally good writer, to capture our Netaji in action. The video will be telecast live on YouTube. “It should look like it’s happened tonight only,” he says. To make our campaign on social media untraceable, Arora says he would use an American IP address (“Nobody will come to know from where all this is coming...because IP addresses get blocked, it will be a US IP.”) He will fabricate all likes on Facebook for Netaji and would hire college students.

The negative campaign will be run from the US, Arora claims, with a team of four-five members of Indian origin there. “We will create a random blogger directly from the US. And, there is no limit to negative publicity on Facebook that I can do. That will all be done from the US only.” Asking us to wait to see all kinds of fireworks once the project gets going, Arora says he would hack the website of Netaji’s political opponent a few days before elections: “The site will be brought down,” he promises.


“Will make 50 fake Muslim profiles; they will only praise your Netaji”
Sanjeev Singh and Ravi Agarwal, Webolaxy, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi

Ravi knows well the pulse of our society—ridden as it is with biases of language, caste and creed. One has to reach out to voters in their own language, something Agarwal terms “language calling”, a concept new to India. Almost casually he tells us, “We will make profiles of people of all religions. Now, only a few Muslims are associated with the bjp—so we will make 50 Muslim profiles, fake ones, and they will only praise the minister, your Netaji.” He then goes on to give an example, a profile in the name of Raheem. “Ok, now what this Raheem will do is he will link all Muslims to his profile because no Muslim would like to associate with the BJP.”

They are seasoned hands, Ravi assures us. “We have done it both for the Congress and the BJP.” As the duo describes a host of services they can bring to our table, Ravi claims on camera to have worked for Narendra Modi. “There is an events company in Ahmedabad, All About Ads—we are working in partnership with them on the Facebook page of Narendra Modiji.”

When asked how it would destroy the reputation of Netaji’s opponent, he says, “You must have seen, for example, anticongress.com. We will make his fake profile, promote it...let us show you an example, sir...(to his colleague) show that...this will get it linked to fake people who will say bad things about him.” Agarwal assures us of the final result: “Sir, we make so many profiles on the internet that there will be at least 4,000 people doing this negativity stuff on Facebook.”


“We’ll join groups of all Congress leaders or of Aam Aadmi Party”
Tusar Kumar, business development manager; Pratik Chaudhry, creative head; Richie Chauhan, executive VP, Tekege Solutions/Ergo Agency, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi

The trio has a well-honed strategy. Pratik, for instance, will join the group of our opposition party to launch a negative campaign against it. “We will all open individual accounts on Facebook,” he says. “After that, we will join the groups of all the Congress leaders or those of the Aam Aadmi Party and there in those groups we will write like ordinary citizens about them...so whoever will write will know fully what is going on.” The company made it clear they would use different IP addresses and set up a separate team for negative propaganda against Netaji’s opponent. “We will not mention our name when declaring who is maintaining the site,” says Tusar. They will use an offshore server. “Chameleon server.” Pratik seconds him.

It’s clearly an outsourced model they’re all familiar with. Richie assures you, “We have to keep you safe from all this (hassle)...so we will get it done from America.” Both the positive and negative campaigns will be done from the US. “Doing a positive campaign is easy. You see, nobody will become angry over positive (publicity)...the negative will make him (Netaji’s opponent) angry.”


“Don’t think about it—you don’t know me, I don’t know you either”
Pradeep Gupta, PageUp Media Technologies, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh

Although Pradeep is not sure how much fan following he can manage for us, he nonetheless gives us an estimate: “A rough idea, take it as one lakh each (for Facebook and Twitter).” According to him, the negative campaigning can be done on Facebook. “Google has a ‘set of rules’ of marketing and if we don’t comply with them, they would block the site,” he says. He then goes on to stress: “For that, you will have to tell me some of the opponent’s loopholes...we will propagate that to make it famous.”

It is simple to keep the link between the client and his company beyond scrutiny, posting comments as innocuous general users. Says Pradeep, “Nowhere would there be any linking of our name with your name. We are general users, so don’t think about it—you don’t know me, I don’t know you either. I ‘liked’ your candidate so I clicked the like. I didn’t like somebody else’s candidate so I said this fellow is a plain cheat.”

As for anonymity, there’s a simple plan. “See, an e-mail can always be tracked through the IP address from which you have taken your internet connection,” says Gupta whose plan is to have multiple internet connections. “So, in this maze of hundreds of e-mail accounts from different IP addresses, it will be impossible to track and identify the source,” he lets you know.


“We create a sensation by posting a morphed video of Netaji’s opponent” Prashanth Maxim Sequeira, CEO and MD, Arokia IT Pvt Ltd, Bangalore

Prashanth claims to have helped two BJP MPs from Karnataka with their social media campaigns. He feels there’s no need to launch a frontal attack on Netaji’s opponent. He would rather do so much positive publicity for Netaji that there would be “no need to go for any negative publicity against the opponent”. Then he would add some negative comments on the site of the opposite party. The trick lies in creating fake profiles—Prashanth admits his firm ‘creates’ these. The other method that he adopts is getting paid followers. He would post a morphed video of Netaji’s opponent in a compromising position on his page: “We’re all right for that...we create a sensation for two, four days by creating a dummy type.”


“Everything will be done from Singapore, nothing from here”
Atul Tibrewala, MD, E-Vision Technologies, Main Avenue, Santacruz-West, Mumbai

Atul, the honcho of E-Vision Technologies, has big corporate houses among his clients. Creating five lakh likes is a piece of cake for him, he says. “You will get as many (likes) as you want, but tell me if you need at your constituency level or all-India level.” Saying TV shows like Indian Idol follow the same tack, he explains, “We place a team of 7-8 people, tell them to go for a new registration (to open an account), do the ‘likes’ there, then go for another registration and keep doing like this.”

There will be 25 members in his team, which will also include copywriters who are good at the job. A call centre will help Netaji’s team reach out to the voters of the constituency. Tibrewala would not only counter any scandalous statement posted online against Netaji but also publish defamatory content against our opponent. He would send defamatory SMS and e-mails against our opponent, routing them though Singapore. “Everything will be done from there (Singapore) only, nothing will be done from here. That’s because no name will show up there, and nobody will come to know from where it is coming.”


“We make comments about him, saying he’s done these bad things”
Abdul Vasi, director, HostCats, R.T. Nagar, Bangalore

The director of this iso-certified company has no problem running a negative campaign against Netaji’s opponents on social media. He will cover his tracks, as he says, by using overseas servers. “What we will do for negative (publicity) is send spam mail from servers based in Germany, Russia. You understand, nobody will be able to trace it.” His team will also create fake websites to post all the negative publicity against Netaji’s opponent: “We can make fake websites on which we can make all bad comments about him, saying that he has done these bad things.” He knows the art of defaming online: “I know it well what kind of negative publicity we have to do and how to do it.” The business of creating likes will be done with the help of certain agencies, obviously all sham.


 

“Who tells whom, nobody knows. The video then will keep on circulating.”
Mahendra Bedekar, creative head; Amrut Patki, senior visualiser; Suraj Naik, manager (Human Resources-Admin); Neeraj, business development head, Tridat Technologies Pvt Ltd, Byculla, Mumbai

From generating likes to SMS to serving up e-mailers and bloggers, this team claims to know every trick of the trade in online reputation management. To destroy the reputation of Netaji’s opponent, they will also do negative publicity. Says Neeraj: “We will do that in the end, the last few days (before elections) when a month or so is left.” This will be handled by a different team. What tools will they employ? The team says it can be done using applications such as WhatsApp on mobiles making the negative content go viral without it ever being traced to its source. “Someone tells me (to forward the video),” he explains. “But who tells whom, nobody knows. Then the video keeps on circulating.” Even SMS via the internet can be a vehicle for negative propaganda against the opposite camp, they say.


“There is this benefit of using cartoons—it gives you safety”
Neeraj Sinha, Torus Infotech, Azadpur, Delhi

Neeraj will attack Netaji’s opponent a few days before elections (“Yes, we will do planning for that”). His team would post funny caricatures of Netaji’s opponent so as not to make it libellous: “Because, there is this benefit of using cartoon—it gives you safety. It is not illegal, and no case will be filed. (We can say) this, I did for fun, but we will have conveyed our message.” He will do this, of course, using a separate internet connection bought using a fake ID. He will disable the tracking device of the laptops he will use for the project and once it is over he will destroy the machine. Neeraj will put in place a separate team for this negative campaign, which will be done in a manner that looks genuine, and will cook up stories with “our imagination”.


“Election Commission might be above your party, but their rules don’t apply to us.”
R.N. Sangwan, MD; Amit, Alliance Softech, Dwarka, New Delhi

We first meet Amit who simply tells us to buy likes for Netaji’s Facebook campaign. These come in various packages of US fans, worldwide fans, country-target fans. However, his boss R.N. Sangwan gets down to business as soon as he joins in. As the parleys move on, he tells us just why marketing on social media is safe: “If some other fellow says something about you, then nobody has any control over it. There’s a logic here—Election Commission might be above your party, might be above your Netaji, but no Election Commission rules apply to us.” Sangwan promises to deliver one lakh likes on Netaji’s FB page: “If we make a commitment today, then we can get you one lakh hits in a justified manner.”


“We have done this a lot in the US, specifically for one candidate”
Neeraj Kumar, Valuebound Interactive Solutions, Koramangala, Bangalore

Neeraj, one of the directors of Valuebound, claims to have helped not only Indian politicians but also a US politician in managing online reputations. “We have done (this kind of job) a lot in the US, specifically for one candidate.” He will create 10 lakh likes on Netaji’s Facebook page using dummy accounts. After the dummy accounts are created, a team takes charge of creating the content. His team will raise certain issues and create hype around them against Netaji’s opponent, and they will themselves dig out the information. You need to just plant a story about the opponent in a newspaper, suggests Neeraj, the rest his team will do, and it will become a truth for the public: “Then it becomes the public’s view, do you understand?”

They use US-based servers. To make their operations untraceable, they would form a company for a specific project, and wrap it up as soon as it has served its purpose. “This is so simple—we will float a company, rent out an office and work from there the whole year. The whole job will be done by them in the US and then (as soon as the project is over, the company) will be wrapped up, the whole team will be dissolved,” says Neeraj.


“We can SMS using someone else’s site which will be done from out of the country”
Smeeta Thakare, creative head; Vipin Patil, business head, Integerz e-Business Solutions, Borivali, Mumbai

The team at Integerz would create likes on FB in a gradual manner that “looks genuine”. Similarly, Integerz offers to give us a fan following of about five lakh on Twitter. This reputation management will not be complete if criticism against Netaji is allowed to show. Both Smeeta and Vipin will see to it that criticism from opposition quarters is filtered. They will target the opponents by highlighting their failures. “Congress is receiving criticism, we can use that. People are themselves commenting on the failures of the other party, our opposition.” Defamatory smses would be sent via a third country. “There is another method, we can do SMS using someone else’s site which will be done from out of the country,” says Vipin. To avoid tracking, they will use an offshore server. Or, even better, they will hire some other agency to get the content posted from the US.

COMMENTS PRINT
Cobrapost Investigation
No social media space in this election season is sacred. It’s a playground for manipulation—routine and vile. Any IT firm does it for a price.
Syed Masroor Hasan
Cobrapost Investigation
From setting off a bomb to creating panic, it’s all fixed
Cobrapost Investigation
Our fake company was maligned ably for less than a lakh
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