New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters, long associated with spreading fake news on social media, have found a new weapon in their arsenal: Satire. The aim is to use a tool often employed by their “liberal” rivals to counter the “wrong narratives they propagate”.
Websites such as the Hansi Mazak Party (HMP) and The Fauxy seek to target the “liberal ecosystem”, which the former says comprises “eminent journalists, pseudo-intellects, stand-up comedians, student activists, paid thinkers and politicians”.
Some other Right-wing sites, OpIndia and Rightlog, also have sections dedicated to satire.
Sample these headlines from the portals: “Cyclone Fani Affects Only Non-BJP Ruled States; Mamata Suspects Conspiracy By Modi”, “Web Series City Of Dreams Not A Rahul-Priyanka Biopic; Reportedly Both Characters Are Smart”, “I&B ministry wants to set Republic TV as default setting of all the TVs”, “Rahul Gandhi’s Drama, Blatant Copy Of Munnabhai. Five Instances That Prove it”, “Not just Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, Congress also believes in magic mushrooms that can make you fair”, “Xi Jingping [sic] writes to Kamal Nath regarding Masood Azhar’s designation as global terrorist”.
The Fauxy was set up in July 2018 by four volunteers, who refused to identify themselves when approached by ThePrint. The portal deals in satire centred on politics, celebrities and athletes.
“The sole purpose of the site is crushing stereotypes in a humorous and satirical way, especially around serious and taboo topics, to create actual positive change in society,” The Fauxy told ThePrint in an email.
“The website has seen unprecedented growth,” The Fauxy said. “Article views have crossed the million mark, and average reach per article is around 10k,” it added.
“As it turns out, one of our most appreciated and read articles is co-incidentally about your website…” it said, referring to an article headlined “Man Takes Print Out Of @ThePrintIndia Articles to Wrap Samosa on Them”.
According to the website, the article is based on an imagined conversation with a samosa seller named Brij Mohan who “speaks really good English”.
“Brij Mohan said ‘…I came across various articles of Print India [sic], I was shocked to know that all their articles are either fake or funny or both…’,” the article reads.
“’That’s why I decided to show Shekhar Gupta the real worth of his articles. Today I am using it for wrapping samosa, tomorrow I can do worse’,” it further quoted him as saying.
The Fauxy and HMP appear to be linked. The HMP website domain was created in May 2018, according to Whois, a database that provides background details about websites. The website identifies its founder as the owner of the Twitter account Chowkidar Maithun MI (@Being_Humor), who has 1.65 lakh followers. His bio on the site features a link to The Fauxy’s Instagram account.
HMP, which claims to be a “Propaganda-Buster News Website”, carries content on politics and journalists. It, too, has an article about ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta.
Satire is a successful strategy
Satire is the use of “humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices”, and has been a potent force on the political landscape.
One of its original forms are the biting cartoons that became the mainstay of newspapers on the watch of stalwarts such as R.K. Laxman and K. Shankar Pillai. But social media has given the medium a fresh form in the memes and short textual posts that have made celebrities out of their often-anonymous creators, including Humans of Hindutva and Rofl Gandhi, who count followings in lakhs.
There seems to be a growing appetite for satire, with websites like The Fauxy and the HMP registering an increase in followers where conventional Right-wing news platforms like Swarajya have witnessed a decline.
According to website traffic analysis tool Alexa, The Fauxy’s daily page views per visitor went up by 8 per cent and daily time spent on site by 5 per cent. The figures are based on the last three months.
Meanwhile, Swarajya, a domain created in 2014, registered a 16.75 per cent fall in daily page views per visitor, with daily time spent on site down by 20 per cent.
Another serious Right-wing platform, OpIndia, created in 2014, also registered a 6.8 per cent decline in daily-page views per visitor, though daily time spent on the site is up 3 per cent.
Other political satire websites include Dapaan.com, which was also launched in 2014 and centres on Kashmir issues. Some of its articles are, “Uproar in parliament as Mufti flushes toilet without telling Modi” and “Stranded Kashmiris teargassed to make them feel home: Police”.
The Dapaan team, which also preferred to stay anonymous, said of their challenges, “Ours is more of an amateur website short on resources, hence [publishing is] very irregular.
“The fake news phenomenon has obviously made it tough for genuine satire,” it added.
Dapaan’s daily page views per visitor fell 49. 75 per cent in the three-month period, but it is ranked 23rd among the world’s 43 most-visited satire sites.
‘Light-hearted to mean-spirited’
While popular, modern satire is untrue to its roots for veterans of the medium. According to noted satirist Ashwin Shiv Kumar, who was once a regular contributor to The UnReal Times, contemporary satire is “caustic, acerbic” and “nasty”, where it was “light-hearted” and “purely for fun” as recently as 2010-2014.
Kumar told ThePrint that he had seen satire change from a fun hobby to a tool “properly leveraged in the ongoing narrative war, for political and ideological reasons”.
“Comedians’ and satirists’ approach these days, especially considering this is the election season, seems to be to target one particular individual (or party or ideology) at every juncture and put in a concerted effort in trying to bring them down,” he said.
For example, HMP has headlines like “Arvind Kejriwal’s Close Friend Justifies Rape Of Goat By Eight Muslim Men”, while an article on The Fauxy reads thus: “Male Standup Comedian To Give Blowjob To Anyone Who Votes Against Modi”.
Satirists opposing the BJP or the government do not have their own websites, instead choosing social media platforms to broadcast their content, sometimes as slanderous as that hosted by pro-BJP websites.
Twitter account @RoflGandhi_, which has 3.6 lakh followers, recently a picture of PM Modi in line to vote with the man in front saying, ‘I have to be abusive now because Narendra Modi is following me’,” reads a recent post.
Via NaMo TV pic.twitter.com/MSPknpjrnc
— Rofl Gandhi (@RoflGandhi_) April 23, 2019
On the Facebook page Humans of Hindutva, which has over 2 lakh likes, a recent post featured a photo of Modi holding the reins of an equine, with the caption, “Didi, let the trading begin because my party is full of donkeys and I could use some of your horses.”
The falling level of public discourse have seen some of these content writers face death threats, besides facing tabs from the host social media platform over complaints from the opposing side.
On 30 April, Humans of Hindutva — which has earlier been pulled down by the administrator over alleged death threats before being brought online again — wrote on Facebook that they may go offline again.
The page administrator also retracted a statement given to ThePrint, writing a few days later, “…Please keep me out of the article. I have lost all faith in my country, our judiciary, our media, our institutions. I have even lost faith in social media as a platform or medium to share my opinions. I want to put this whole thing behind me as it was an exercise in futility.”
Right-wing is winning this narrative war
Whatever the outcome of the elections, BJP supporters seem to be winning the narrative war, at least the one based on satire, a fact those on the Congress side admit as well.
Asked if there were any satire sites led by Congress supporters, a volunteer of the party said the “Congress ecosystem isn’t so strong in all this”. The Right-wing also has at its disposal some successful satirists, including Rahul Roushan.
Roushan founded the popular satire site Faking News, acquired by Network18’s FirstPost in 2013, before going on to help with parody site Junta Ka Reporter in addition to running five social media parody accounts. Roushan is now the CEO of OpIndia.
Since these portals have their own websites and are thus not restricted by social media guidelines, they also have a freer run.