#Cobrapost, #Kapilsibal, #SheilaDikshit and other social media updates

Some interesting updates on the Indian social media today.

One, Cobrapost, a website claiming to clean India by exposing scandals, and run by Aniruddha Bahal of #Tehelka fame, has published an expose, Operation Blue Virus. 

According to it, many companies are running ‘reputation management’ business, which means offering to boost social media popularity and destroy an opponent’s reputation. According to Cobrapost, it uncovered two dozen such companies by posing to be a politician’s agent. Among the offers made by these shady companies were for generating fake followings on Facebook and Twitter accounts, stopping negative comments, making YouTube video go viral and doing negative publicity against somebody – all with utmost anonymity.  

What makes this expose a bit suspect is that all those exposed (for such unethical and illegal activities for politicians) work for Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the country’s opposition party, the BJP. Consider how politicians of all hues have been indulging in undesirable social media conduct (check this ITP post: web presence of Indian politicians) and you see the bias. Beyond that, this expose does bring into highlight the rot in politics and social media, once again.

Ready to vote: photo from eci.gov.in 

Beware of comment spam

Bloggers love comments and we need not tell the reasons. And all bloggers hate comment spam: comments sent by people for the sake of advertising or link building or with some other motive.

Unfortunately, many bloggers welcome all types of comments either without realizing that many of the genuine looking comments are not really genuine, or in the hope that a large number of comments is a mark of their blog's high popularity. On the other hand, may bloggers get so pissed off with unwanted comments that they make it difficult for a genuine commenter to give his feedback.

What do they get by making irrelevant, irritating comments?

Unscrupulous spammers comment on blogs with the misplaced hope that people will buy the product they shamelessly promote. At times, they are not the real sellers but an agency on their behalf; this agency convinces the seller about the usefulness of this type of commenting. 

Spammers also flood blogs with comments to get backlinks (and so, more backlinks and then higher placement on search pages). They also get publicity when other visitors see these comments on the genuine blog.

Some spammers also are innocent bloggers who have been told by unethical SEO guys to put their blog's links on others' comment boxes to get backlinks. 

These commenters get what they want, because most bloggers are not alert enough to prevent or remove useless/ harmful comments. 

Sometimes the blogger takes the comments as genuine and starts engaging with the comment maker.

After Google and other search engines started identifying repeated or unrelated comments as spams, spammers have become smarter. Now in their comments they do not put rubbish or matter that would be automatically removed as spam by web filters. They write biggish comments and also place links as part of the comment. Smarter ones even put some text that makes it relevant to the content of the blog.

In the image here, we give examples of some real comments that we got on ITB. Look how sincere they look in the first glance!

What is the right way to handle comments?

You have many options:
  • Stop accepting comments. Or accept comments through a form that is not part of a post.
  • Accept comments from people who register with you.
  • Accept comments only from people with proven identities such as Google / Wordpress ID.
  • Moderate comments. That is, comments are visible only when you approve them.
  • Put a tough captcha - e.g. text mixed up with images - which the commenter must put before he can publish the comment.
  • Use a mix of the above.
You may like to want commenters to go through a captcha before they comment. But captchas are notorious for becoming too irritable at times. If you are keen on using a captcha, don't put other limitations on commenting. In any case, captcha does not stop a spammer from manually commenting on your blog.

Allowing comments only from those with proven identities is like telling others that you care a hoot for them. If you insist on allowing only the people with Google ID etc, consider making the list wide: stop only anonymous comments AND allow Disqus, OpenID, FB or Twitter apps.

Asking the commenter to register with you is tolerable if yours is a highly reputed website [e.g. a magazine, a newspaper, a reputed company] or if you operate in a niche in which you are an expert.

We have learnt with experience that moderating comments is the best way to ward off spammers and not irritate commenters.

Related resources:
What is captcha and whether to use it?
Whether to stop receiving comments?

Blog helps Stella expose wrongdoing

Seen the post by Stella James about sexual assault on her by a recently retired judge of India's top court, the Supreme Court? She has exposed the wrongdoing by narrating her experience in a post on the blog of JILS

JILS blog is run by the student body of the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, India.

Stella says, the incident occurred a year back but she chose to expose it only now. 'The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the crux of my unease lay in my inability to find a frame in which to talk, or even think, about my experience,' she writes. She shared her trauma with friends and colleagues, wrote the post, shared it again with them and finally posted it on the blog. Had she told the experience to a TV channel, it would have made a spicy 24x7 news-programme out of it, embarrassing her and many more, and editing her version to suit its own agenda.

The blogger pours her heart out in the post and says, she feels liberated after 'allowing myself to feel more than just anger at a man who violated me'. We feel, she must also have felt liberated after having pressed the 'publish' button on the blog's post-editor. On the blog, she has got many responses, some  outright insensitive. The Supreme Court has taken cognizance of the matter and have set up a committee to go into the matter. As we publish this post, the committee has asked her to appear before it.

ITB is not pre-judging the case. We just brought this to the notice of bloggers and social media thinkers as an example of how blogs offer a platform to people who would not otherwise be able to share their experiences with the people, the way they want.

Best offline dictionary and thesaurus

There are many dictionaries available free on the web. Some are available online and some can be installed on the computer and can be used offline.

Of course, word processing programs come loaded with a dictionary. For example, Microsoft Office has an in-built dictionary which you can access by right-clicking on a word in Word, Power Point etc. New versions of MS Office are quite intuitive when it comes to suggesting corrections. MS Word also supplies a list of synonyms through right click. 

Blogs and websites of popular Indian politicians

A study of the blogging and web habits of top Indian politicians makes interesting reading. We have some general observations to make before we discuss individual websites / blogs:

First, on social media as a whole. 

Indian politicians are a confused lot when it comes to their understanding of social media. Most of them have heard that front-running social media giants such as Modi, Digvijaya and Tharoor are on Twitter etc and are good at it, but they don’t know what social media really is. They know that the young generation is tech savvy but are confused about what they themselves are required to do to engage with the youth. They are also not sure how much influence it can make to their political prospects. For some, it is something to be handled by back-end techies; bigger politicians of this ilk think, it is something to be handled by either back-room boys or their party or government staff. Most of the politicians seem to think, web media is just Facebook and Twitter or a website which they can boast of. Left parties don't allow [as of now] their politicians to open their personal social media accounts.

Second, on why they hate blogging. 

Politicians want quick return on the time spent on social media. So, Twitter is the best, followed by Facebook. Serious discussions that a good blog demands, in any case, is not in most politicians’ priority.
On Twitter, they mostly react instantly to witty comments made by one they are in competition with. Look at this Twitter 'dialogue':
A: Visited constituency today. Went through heat and dust.
B: People borne with silver spoon in mouth melt in one day’s heat.
A: Only he knows about dust and heat of village who goes there. Others make comments sitting in AC rooms.
B: Heat and dust picnic zindabad!!