With over one crore downloads at Google Play store in four years since its launch, the Narendra Modi (NaMo) app, the official app of the Prime Minister, has established itself as a major platform to share the opinions of the government and — to some people’s disliking — of the party he belongs. The controversy surrounding the ownership of the app or why the “official app” of the Prime Minister is being used to promote party propaganda is, however, not new.
The fresh controversy to hit the app in the election year is the accusation that it is being used to spread false propaganda against BJP’s political rivals by some users. At the centre of this allegation is the “My Network” feature that promotes news feed from a handful of accounts. This section works just like a social media platform where people can like and comment on the posts. It also allows users to “repost” and share the post on other social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Twitter among others, making it easier for the users to spread the word seen on the app.
In a blog post in January, journalist Samrath Bansal reported that while some of these accounts share regular political updates, their Facebook pages openly circulate fake news, making millions of NaMo app users vulnerable to misleading information. It seems BJP is not unaware of the fake news problem on the NaMo app. Amit Malviya, head of BJP’s IT cell, acknowledged that there is “some scope for misinformation” on the platform and “multiple posts have been taken down”, according to the blog post.
If you thought the NaMo is all about ‘know about the activities of the Prime Minister’, listening to his “Mann Ki Baat” state addresses, and keeping track of the “positive” news about the government that he leads, you would be underestimating to what extent the platform is being used to run the PM’s public relations efforts. The “Merchandise” section in the app is already selling wristbands and T-shirts with “NAMO AGAIN” tag, all apparently in preparation for the upcoming general election.