Ranjona Banerji: On TekFog and how an app can change headlines within another app

11 Jan,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji


The investigation into the BJP IT Cell app, TekFog, by The Wire keeps revealing how lax and therefore dangerous tech safety — or lack of it — can be. Many, too many say some, live their lives on social media or use it extensively. Not just to communicate but to access news and information. Which can easily become lies and disinformation.


The second instalment of The Wire investigation shows, for instance, how the app can change news headlines that you view on Whatsapp to change the meaning completely and generate more junk news.



To those who work on tech and social media, this may be old hat. But that is a copout argument. It’s like climate change. Even if the danger has been known for years, even if not enough is being done about it, we can’t just stop increasing awareness of its dangers.


And like climate change cannot be ignored, the way tech can be used to infiltrate every aspect of your life has to be addressed by the mainstream media with more rigour and precision.


Sadly, despite all the evidence of how news is manipulated and changed to target political positions, the mainstream media seems blissfully unaware of what’s unfolding around them. You get more information from satirical documentaries and films on the effect of social media and tech on our lives than you do from the journalism side of the media.


In fact, these satirical takes on the media have not failed to notice to latest kind of journalistic laziness – making an article out of tweets. This laziness would be fine if it was followed up on, if the way in which social media has changed and is changing us was consistently covered.


“Journalism is the first draft of history” or variations of that self-congratulatory axiom are usually attributed to Philip Graham of the Washington Post. However, there are references to its usage long before that. But whoever said it, if we as the media believe that we have this privilege, we need to be better at it.


We can no longer be stuck in either extreme political nor celebrity upliftment. Whether we do it lazily through Twitter or with slightly more work through leaks, sources and press releases. We have to place ourselves at the forefront of where humans are changing and who is doing that to them.


Our TV channels have long abandoned news for primetime viewers. It’s been decades now since media house newsrooms have “outsourced” news gathering to agencies. As long as someone does it, you may think it’s all right. But in effect you’ve abandoned your control to someone else and they may not provide the coverage that is relevant to the times.


While the media abdicates, the State does not stop its harassment, either openly or through nefarious means, of those who still practise journalism. The extent of the State’s anger with those who show truth to power is evident in this chargesheet filed against Kashmiri journalist Sajad Gul, which says that he is “always in search of anti-government news”.


That the State thinks this is a crime is an example of the infiltration of undemocratic and unconstitutional thought in our Constitutional authorities.



Since the controversial abrogation of Article 370, journalists in Kashmir have been at the receiving end of vicious state power. Which is largely ignored by the mainstream media itself.


The Editors Guild of India has now released a statement about TekFog and the BulliApp and SulliDeals cases. It reads in the end: “Editors Guild demands that the government takes urgent steps to break and dismantle this misogynistic and abusive eco-system”.


But there is more for the mainstream media to comprehend: TekFog, like Pegasus before it, attacks the very lifeblood of the media itself. If spyware hijacks private communication of journalists, if an app can change headlines within another app, it means that journalism and the media itself is facing a worse virus than its own constant capitulations to state power. Agents of The State are successfully destroying whatever little independence it had, from within.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal


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