Tek Fog is an app reportedly used by political operatives affiliated with Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Information Technology Cell (IT Cell). As per reports from The Wire, BJP employees allegedly used the app to manipulate the media in favor of the ruling party.
According to a source, the app was used to artificially inflate the party’s popularity, harass its critics, and influence public perceptions across major social media platforms. The Wire has independently confirmed the app’s existence and the validity of the source’s information.
The information first came to light after a disgruntled employee, Aarthi Sharma of the IT cell, tweeted about the app’s existence. The secret app “Tek Fog” can bypass reCaptcha codes, allowing employees to auto-upload texts and hashtag Trends.
The source claims their daily tasks included hijacking Twitter’s ‘trending’ section with targeted hashtags. They were also responsible for creating/managing multiple WhatsApp groups affiliated with the BJP and directed the online harassment of journalists critical of the BJP. This was all done using the Tek Fog app.
The source revealed that the party promised to give her a government job if BJP could retain power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, their supposed handler, Devang Dave, former national social media and IT head, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (the youth wing of the BJP), and current election manager for the party in Maharashtra failed to uphold the promise.
Tek Fog’s Concerned Features
The Wire notes that Tek Fog has many concerning features for manipulating social media. Users can only access the app in specific locations and require three OTP verifications to log in. There are many security features just like this to ensure only employees can use the app.
Hijacking the ‘trending’ section
Tek Fog has an automated feature to ‘auto-retweet’ or ‘auto-share’ the tweets and posts of individuals or groups. It can also spam existing hashtags with accounts controlled by app operatives. As per the report, the operators could hijack the ‘trending’ section of Twitter and ‘trend’ on Facebook.
The hashtags were being inauthentically amplified by a range of suspicious accounts all through Tek Fog. The Wire was able to identify two separate occasions where the hashtags were manipulated to reach the trending section. One of these hashtags was #CongressAgainstLabourers.
According to the report, Tek Fog also allowed its users to generate ‘temporary’ email addresses and activate phone numbers. It could also bypass programming limitations and email/OTP verification set by WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram.
Phishing ‘inactive’ WhatsApp accounts
Tek Fog could also hijack inactive WhatsApp accounts. The operators used these accounts to message their ‘frequently contacted’ or ‘all contacts.’ Operators also used this feature to phish users’ personal information and added it to their cloud database. This database was used in future harassment and trolling campaigns.
Database of private citizens
According to the report, Tek Fog also had an extensive cloud database of private citizens. The app categorized citizens based on their occupation, religion, language, age, gender, political inclination, and even physical attributes.
The report indicated the operators could ‘auto-reply’ to individuals or groups in an abusive or derogatory manner (troll campaign).
Tek Fog leaves no evidence
As per the report, Tek Fog allows operatives to delete or remap all existing accounts. This feature helped them leave no trace behind that could incriminate them.
The Companies Behind Tek Fog
The source claimed that Persistent Systems (IT services company) and Mohalla Tech Pvt. Ltd. were closely involved with the whole operation. Mohalla Tech is the company behind Sharechat, a popular Indian regional language social media platform funded by Twitter.
The source claimed that operators used Sharechat to test and curate fake news, political propaganda, and hate speech. The social media app has come into trouble in the past due to fake news, hate speech, and privacy issues.
The Wire also identified a list of websites and services accessing the app. The list included Sharechat suggesting direct involvement. Other websites had news platforms such as Republic World, OpIndia, ABP News, and Dainik Jagran. However, it isn’t clear whether they were involved or not.
Another source currently employed at Persistent Systems confirmed Tek Fog’s existence in their database. All parties, including Devang Dave of BJYM, have denied involvement with any such app.