Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a devoted Tweeter with a massive Facebook following, has given his ministers a list of social media dos and don’ts. Having indulged freely in Twitter wars with Congress rivals in the run-up to this summer’s general election, Modi has told his ministerial colleagues to: use the right language, maintain political neutrality and avoid spamming people and only follow “authentic" government news sources.

If only others on the social media space would listen to such sage advice.

Last week, a smart Facebook user by the name of Jay Branscomb put up a photograph of Hollywood director Steven Spielberg posing with dinosaur prop from his 1993 film Jurassic Park. “Disgraceful photo of recreational hunter happily posing next to a Triceratops he just slaughtered," Branscomb’s caption ran. “Please share so the world can name and shame this despicable man."

Howls of outrage emanated from Facebook users. Thousands left anguished comments (some faking it no doubt). Last checked there were 41,777 shares, 16,469 likes and well over 9,000 comments.

Something similar has been happening in India. Over 200 million Indians are online, 100 million of them Facebook users. Some of these scams have to do with Unesco, so let’s remind ourselves about this august UN body.

In the mid-80s, around five years before the end of the Cold War, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan took Britain and the US out of Unesco in a huff. The Paris-based body that deals with cultural matters such as preserving our languages, was seen as the last remaining bastion of Leftist Third Worlders. Disagreements boiled over after an attempt by non-aligned countries, the group that the US saw as anti-US and which it really was, to push through something called the New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO). Developing countries railed against the Western media, in particular the Big Four news agencies —AP and UPI (American), Reuters (British), and AFP (French).

Architects of this planned new order, including some enthusiastic Indians, correctly foresaw the advent of satellite and other technologies as drivers of the future media. Wrongly, they feared developing countries would be left out of this revolutionary technological loop.

I am certain its advocates watch Indian satellite television channels for news. They would be familiar with the Internet, too, and computers and Facebook.

Much water has flown in the Seine since those Cold War days and the NWICO exists these days mainly for the purposes of university research.

In the mid-90s the left-of-centre governments led by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair led their nations to rejoin Unesco. This quaint world body does crop up now and again in India—ironically, as an easy target for the kind of manipulations that the advocates of the New Order feared would be spread by the West.

These Internet manipulations—scattered across the Indian social media space today—appear to be the work of individuals but the response to them is overwhelmingly collective.

If virtual reality were anything like physical reality, Unesco would be uniquely India-obsessed. Every year unfailingly, it would declare the Indian national anthem, Jana Gana Mana (“the ruler of the minds of all people"), the world’s best national anthem. So the emails and Facebook messages claim, spawning countless likes and words of nationalistic self-congratulation.

At some point Unesco apparently also declared Bengali to be the “world’s sweetest language", beating French and Urdu and swelling the Bengali chest with pride.

There’s a Facebook picture of Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose meeting Einstein. “Wow, sharing" is the near-universal response. Except of course no such photo exists although the two men did meet briefly in 1925 in Germany. The photo, so madly popular on Facebook and beloved of gullible Bengalis, is a photoshopped image, Bose’s head superimposed crudely over that of Leo Szilard, the American physicist. There’s one of the young Satyajit Ray (it isn’t him) with Rabindranath Tagore, and of Che Guevara jamming on the guitar with John Lennon. Singing Imagine presumably.

And so it goes on.

The Internet, far from spelling Western domination of the developing world, came with the promise of freeing and democratizing information. But millions of people with little access to authentic sources of information (such as libraries) or bookshops are fooled by manipulated Internet texts and images everyday. At its most common you have the spammed promise of millions of dollars—all you have to do (and many do) is to email the sender your bank details. The slightly more devious attempt political manipulation. In India, the most common of these are charmless, cooked-up stories about the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. But of course these laughable works of fiction—e.g., Indira Gandhi was run out of Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan school by Tagore himself—are almost always titled “the truth".

Such crude political “history" peppers India’s virtual world today, attempting to snare gullible netizens with its virtual truths, the phantom child of the new information order.

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