Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Protest of the day

Last night, the British Parliament cast a series of votes that may well determine the future of their nation… in plain sight of “wiggling buttocks” and “a woman, daubed in grey body paint and wearing a pair of elephant ears and trunk, [indulging] in some unusual interpretive dance.” (best photos here, brilliant video of MPs reactions here) No, the intruders were not protesting Brexit but climate change (why stay on topic, really). Also: The MPs once again failed to back a single alternative to Brexit, thereby heightening chatter of a snap election.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The misinformation war in India

Facebook pulled down hundreds of pages, groups and accounts for violating its guidelines. These represent just the tip of a gargantuan misinformation iceberg that threatens the upcoming elections.


What happened? Facebook pulled down or blocked social media assets which it accused of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour.” These included:


  • 24 Pages, 57 Facebook accounts, 7 Groups and 15 Instagram accounts linked to employees of the ISPR (Inter-Service Public Relations) of the Pakistani military;

  • 687 Facebook Pages and accounts  linked to individuals associated with an IT Cell of the Indian National Congress (INC).

  • 15 Facebook Pages, Groups and accounts linked to individuals associated with an Indian IT firm, Silver Touch—which is strongly connected to the BJP.


What were they doing exactly? “Coordinated inauthentic behaviour” is when a network of groups and accounts pretend to be authentic and independent supporters of, say, PM Modi or Rahul Gandhi. But they actually work in a coordinated network to spread misinformation, and are strongly linked to either political parties or a foreign government. According to Facebook executives, these ‘assets’ “created a large number of fake accounts that would appear to be independent, go into Facebook groups, and deliver messages that people would treat differently if they knew that these were coming from political parties.”


Tell me more: While the Pakistani groups promoted the usual propaganda during the Balakot strikes, an independent analysis of BJP and Congress networks reveals very different strategies:

  • The Congress party had many more pages, but with much smaller follower counts. Most focused on small towns in Gujarat—likely created to target voters during the Assembly elections. They primarily posted satirical content aimed at Modi and the BJP, but had far less engagement than their BJP counterparts.

  • The BJP-supporting groups were less numerous but far more influential. The largest among these is India Eye whose Facebook page had over 2 million followers. Its content tended to be more angry and hyperpartisan.


The misinformation loop: The organisational links of these groups is what makes them truly powerful. Take, for example, India Eye, the offender with the most clout. It is a promoted account on the NaMo app. The app itself comes preloaded in free Android phones distributed by the BJP party, and in cheap phones sold by Jio. India Eye’s reach therefore extends far beyond Facebook or Insta—reaching millions of voters who consume its often misleading content on the app. The other connection: The India Eye” is linked to a company called Silver Touch Technologies Ltd, which also created the NaMo app.

Learn more: Economic Times has an overview of the story. DFR Labs offers a detailed breakdown of Congress and BJP misinformation efforts on Medium. The Atlantic has an excellent ‘big picture’ take on the fake news tsunami threatening the elections. This older Huffington Post piece dives into the ‘fake news’ problem on the NaMo app. Alt News did an investigation into India Eye’s links to the BJP.

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repressing traumatic childhood memories of jackfruit

Trump has a new anti-immigration policy: He plans to shut down the US-Mexico border this week. And this even though the move “would disrupt supply chains for major U.S. automakers, trigger swift price increases for grocery shoppers and invite lawsuits against the federal government, according to trade specialists and business executives.” Shabash! (Washington Post)


Doubling down on the ‘Hindu’ card: After five years of staying away from overtly saffron rhetoric, PM Narendra Modi gave a fiery campaign speech that mentioned the word ‘Hindu’ 13 times. More striking were assertions such as these: “And so, now they (the Congress) haven’t the courage to contest from a constituency where the majority dominates. This is the punishment for using ‘Hindu terror’. They are now compelled to take shelter in a place where the majority is in the minority.” (video clip here) The not-so-veiled reference is to Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad where 49% of the population is Hindu. (The Telegraph)


Johnson’s baby shampoo is not so ‘gentle’ or ‘safe’: Turns out all those ads with adored and adorable babies being bathed by their parents may have been wildly misleading. A Rajasthan government board has found formaldehyde in two batches of its baby shampoo. The substance used in making building materials is a known carcinogen. This is after a Reuters investigation in the US back in December revealed the possible presence of asbestos in the company’s talcum powder. (Indian Express)


Here’s why your summer is going to suck: Temperatures in most places in India have risen at least 3.1°C over normal levels. The country is in the grip of a massive heat wave, warns Accuweather. And things will get uglier this week. So please stay out of the sun and vigilantly hydrated. (Quartz)


This is how much Marvel hearts India: AR Rahman dropped his new anthem for the series just in time for the release of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ on April 26 (see video here). This one is in Hindi. The Tamil and Telugu version will be out soon. And just in case that doesn’t seal the deal, Director Joe Russo is in town for what is the first stop on the press tour, gushing over Salman Khan in ‘Dabangg’, upcoming projects with Priyanka Chopra and Rajinikanth’s influence on ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. Shhh, dear Joe, you had us at ‘Dabangg’.


Kochi metro is a feminist win: Yesterday, we highlighted a women-only cab service in Calcutta. Today, it’s the woman-dominated metro service in Kochi which has every reason to boast: 80% of the 1,300-strong metro workforce are women, as are seven of the drivers. And the station has breastfeeding pods. (The Guardian)


Your April Fools pranks round up: is right here. Verge sums up the best, worst and cringiest. Buzzfeed has the most cruel jokes, including this puppy-themed one from the US Open. The cruellest joke: the level of outrage over Ola’s porta-potty prank. In our opinion, this year’s efforts were a bit meh. We recommend checking out CNN’s roundup of the best jokes of all time.


Sadly not an April Fools joke: The rap song put out by Elon Musk about Harambe the Gorilla. (E Online)


Also not an April Fools joke: drinkable Retinol. We googled to be extra sure. And yes, it’s real. (Fashionista)


Jim Carrey was slammed by Benito Mussolini's granddaughter: on Twitter. She called him a “bastard.” We include this item solely for the delightful insanity of the headline. And no, this wasn’t an April Fools thing either. (Complex)


Get off your ass, literally! According to a new study, almost anything you do with your body—stand, walk, squat—is better than sitting or lying down. Being a couch potato can literally kill you. (Quartz)


Hema Malini is no chowkidar: She is a kisan harvesting wheat crop in Mathura… just in time for her reelection. Too bad the locals aren’t all that impressed. (India Today)

Oh look, a Brit has discovered jackfruit: We don’t want anyone to say that we only pick on the New York Times for its sometimes egregious India reporting. Today, it’s The Guardian’s turn for its column on “a spectacularly ugly, smelly, unfarmed, unharvested pest-plant native to India.” Best part: we don’t have to say a word. Alok Jha, Science Correspondent for The Economist, already did a brilliant job on Twitter of tearing down this “article so chock full of lazy, culturally-uninformed bullshit.”

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Photographing (In)Equality’ Edition

A single photo can speak volumes—narrate entire tales of joy, sorrow, love and rage. Each of these collections of photographs tells a global story. One is a celebration and the other a moral rebuke.

This is the face of beauty

Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc had a simple idea: travel the world and photograph women. Four years later, she had 2000 images from 53 countries. In her India collection, a Sonam Kapoor is cheek-by-jowl with a young girl from Dharavi, a housewife in Delhi, a 100-year-old woman in Mumbai, and many more. When seen together, these photos tear down the commercialised hierarchy we all labour under—the one which determines who counts as beautiful and who does not. (Also: Watch this video which tells her story and features her global collection, or check out Noroc’s website here)

Check out: Atlas of Beauty —India |

Sex, Love etc 2

This is the face of poverty

If we looked out the plane window just as we are landing, what would we see? What do cities—not just in India, but around the world—look like from a distance, and at great height? These are aerial pictures of Johannesburg, Mumbai, Mexico City and Detroit taken by drone photographer Johnny Miller. The idea sounds innocuous but each image tells a story that is both astonishing and far too familiar. (The full collection is available on Miller’s website).

Check out: Want to visualize inequality? View cities from above | National Geographic

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