1.5 lakh WhatsApp groups, meme pages, influencers, incentivised app: How TDP’s digital drive works

The party has 1.5 lakh WhatsApp groups, around 500 pages operating across social media platforms, and 2.5 lakh users on 'Mana TDP'.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Apr 15, 2024 | 4:00 PM Updated Apr 15, 2024 | 4:02 PM

TDP Social Media and its chief Chandrababu Naidu.

“Since the beginning, it’s been the same story: looting. This is the only thing YS Jagan is familiar with. He spent the pension amount on the thieves (contractors) since assuming his role as CM.”

This is the message — along with a cartoon portraying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and YSRCP chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy as a friend of the rich and deceitful towards the poor — being circulated by TDP social media on WhatsApp groups.

The stand of the yellow party appeared not just in the mainstream media through its pro-party media houses like ETV, ABN, TV5, and Mahaa News but also on its social media platforms.

The TDP reportedly has a strong presence on social media platforms. According to a source from the party, there are approximately 1,48,313 WhatsApp groups, around 500 pages operating on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, and around 2.5 lakh users on the “Mana TDP” application as per the numbers from the end of 2023.

These users’ job is to propagate the content created by the party in exchange for rewards.

The thin line between news, infotainment, and memes is blurred here, with the party’s propaganda depending on the chosen narrative.

Messages are prepared based on the narrative decided in daily internal meetings by party-affiliated and associated members.

The source added that the entire ecosystem works to promote the TDP to regain power. Content dissemination is divided into anti-Jagan and anti-YSRCP, and pro-TDP, Chandrababu, and Nara Lokesh content.

But, some efforts are also utilised for creating memes, trolls, and content to undermine influencers, journalists, sympathisers of political rivals, or any audience who disagrees with the party’s stance.

This report is an inside view of how parties disseminate content, memes and trolls on social media platforms to build narratives ahead of elections.

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Mana TDP

The Mana TDP phone application, developed by TDP, has garnered more than 2.5 lakh downloads. According to the party, the app disseminates the party’s narrative, amplifying it across social media platforms.

A screenshot from the Mana TDP app displaying the reward details.

A snap from the ‘Mana TDP’ app displaying the reward details.

Though there are no direct monetary incentives, the app appears to offer everything that motivates the cadre to work for the party. The party also recruits “digital volunteers” and iTDP (the party’s digital wing) workers to propagate the message.

A consultant, who is part of the application team, said they provide integrated training and motivate the cadre to work aggressively for the party.

The app awards 20 points per task or “share”. Those who accumulate 1,000 points receive a special message from the party’s central office. Those who reach 10,000 points, they receive special appreciation on digital platforms.

At 30,000 points, one receives a small party stand. The highest rewards are a picture from the party’s top leaders — TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu for 10 lakh points and Nara Lokesh for 8 lakh points.

The recent task on this app was the Jarugu Jagan (Move aside Jagan) challenge, which invited 2.5 lakh users to create a dance video and share it on social media by tagging the party’s official social media account.

The reward for this task was an appearance in the party’s social media song, which would be released based on the same theme.

Analyses reveal that the content from the past two months consists mainly of memes, trolls on YSRCP, and promotion of TDP’s manifesto. The content is said to be created by the party’s central team and its poll consultancy Show Time.

Hashtags and context for the posts are provided to further facilitate easy sharing. However, some of the content created about YS Jagan could be construed as too harsh.

The source shared that the app has a legal team for such instances — to further assist the cadre if the ruling party takes any disciplinary action.

He noted, “All we want is to take our narrative out and present it to the public.”

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The WhatsApp narrative

The aforementioned TDP source said around 1.5 lakh party-aligned WhatsApp groups are embedded in the community, spanning unions, regions, and genders.

A consistent narrative is being disseminated from 1 April on WhatsApp through these groups to around 1 crore people: YS Jagan was a capitalist and lacked funds to disburse pension amounts.

A snap of the WhatsApp message accessed by South First.

A snap of the WhatsApp message accessed by South First.

The narrative is part of the discourse of TDP, which has been accused by the YSRCP of obstructing government volunteers from disbursing pensions to beneficiaries citing the Model Code of Conduct.

As a result, elderly individuals across the state have had to go to village secretariats and wait in queues for their pension — a system that was prevalent during the TDP government from 2014 to 2019.

YSRCP has turned this into a political debate, suggesting that if TDP is voted back into power, the queuing system will return.

However, TDP alleges that Jagan is delaying pension disbursement because there is no money left in the state exchequer, and has denied any role in the complaint to the Election Commission of India (ECI) regarding the barring of volunteers from this duty.

The source said content for 50 NRI groups and around 5,000 neutral groups is shared with arguments backed by facts, explanations, and analyses.

Messages like “Jagan is a capitalist and lacks funds for pensions” are not shared in these groups.

Instead, one of the messages — which South First accessed — reads: “TDP has not submitted any complaints to the ECI on Volunteers; it was the NGO Citizens for Democracy who submitted the complaint. There is no truth in reports of old age people dying while on their way to collect pensions. YS Jagan is politicising deaths as he did in 2019 using his uncle Vivekananda Reddy’s death to garner sympathy. [sic]”

Cartoons and short videos with text messages are circulated in these WhatsApp groups, most of which are managed by Show Time and iTDP, said a party source.

The trolls

A TDP-affiliated person, who is also a part of the party’s central office, disclosed on condition of anonymity that around TDP-aligned 500 pages operate on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, with followers ranging from 50,000 to above 1 million.

Some openly declare support for TDP, while others post content with a neutral look to avoid being branded.

The source said some are run in-house. Meanwhile, the monthly payment for each outsourced meme page varies from ₹6,000 to ₹20,000.

“They have targets to post at least one or two posts daily and submit daily reports on audience engagement,” said the source.

He added that there was also the option for content enthusiasts — hired on a monthly basis — to create and post content on existing party-created pages.

A memer, who is running one such social media page and working in collaboration with the TDP, told South First that party members often approach memers through direct messages (DMs), providing personal numbers and initiating negotiation.

The meme-makers receive messages mainly from influencers across all parties with verified blue ticks, which instils trust.

After the meme page has been onboarded, the collaboration works with coordination from the yellow party social media in-charges at the central office.

But, it was learnt that the twist here is, unlike on WhatsApp, there is no set narrative; creators produce content based on trends running in the media or the YSRCP social media ecosystem.

The TDP source said they do not dictate how memers present the content; it’s entirely their decision, as they fear losing followers.

“Upon gaining a general understanding of what is going in the YSRCP ecosystem, they pick the counter-narrative or amplify the anti-content already being aired on pro-TDP channels such as ETV, TV5 and Mahaa News,” he explained.

A memer currently working for TDP said: “We monitor YSRCP pages to understand how their content can be turned into memes.”

The troll denied creating abusive content, stating that they focus on creative content. However, his page contained abusive content. He later stated that it was up to people to judge with bias, but for him, trolling required creativity.

The party source shared that most of these trolls were college students who edited content on mobile devices without disrupting their education, and got pocket money for it.

He further explained that language and meme content were often created en masse due to the lack of specific agendas, making it challenging to control or predict abuse. Moreover, he said, the party only gauges the engagement at the day-end report.

While this is the modus operandi for Facebook and Instagram, the process on YouTube is a little different, especially when it comes to onboarding.

The support on YouTube apparently involves the party either funding the technical equipment the YouTubers may require or providing them with direct access to leaders for interviews or to be in touch for various favours.

A YouTuber working for the party said he got the technical equipment and the transport facility to record testimonials, and that he regularly submits the engagement report to the party.

He shared that he had access to the party’s Lok Sabha candidates and a few of the more popular leaders.

A Dalit YouTuber with 7.28 lakh subscribers, popularly known as Mahasena Rajesh, had been chosen as the TDP candidate from the P Gannavaram Assembly Constituency.

Even before officially joining TDP in February 2023, Rajesh was in some way campaigning for the party by criticising YS Jagan on his social media platforms.

However, TDP withdrew his candidature as his previous anti-caste remarks didn’t align well with alliance partner BJP.

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The influencers

It is learnt that the efforts of the party’s propaganda mechanism have resulted in increased awareness of its digital narrative.

Some consumers of TDP’s propaganda transition into supporters who become active on Twitter or their personal social media profiles.

They engage in arguments and sometimes resort to abusive behaviour towards journalists, while also countering rival-party or neutral influencers.

These individuals are sometimes volunteers, but they are occasionally driven by digital influencers within the party ecosystem.

Digital influencers are supporters of the party who hold positions within it or aspire to do so, managing official accounts on social media.

It has been observed that their affiliation with TDP often revolves more around caste than the ideology of the regional party.


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A post shared by Yesasvi Bodduluri (@yashtdp)

For the party, the onboarding of influencers is a recurring process, as they believe it amplifies the party’s narrative and lends credibility to their claims.

The TDP source said these influencers come from various backgrounds including former journalists, retired employees, community or student leaders, NRIs, and vocal individuals. They are added to WhatsApp groups and granted access to party leaders.

The source also claimed that trolling and abuse were “organised-ly unorganised”.

The party doesn’t specifically target journalists or neutral influencers individually, but they compile lists and get them followed by their influencers. If they observe journalists or influencers opposing them “biased’”, they engage their own influencers to argue on their behalf.

“These digital influencers engage in arguments with other individuals, which is brought to the notice of other digital TDP sympathisers and iTDP workers. So, when they argue with rival or neutral influencers, they receive support from sympathisers and party workers,” he explained.

But, he said, branding of journalists or neutral influencers occurs occasionally, prompting yellow-party sympathisers or volunteers to continue the momentum.

Interestingly, according to the source, no monetary transaction figures in the influencers’ involvement. They engage because they want their voices to be heard and recognised by the party leadership.

He added that the party accommodates this by engaging in personal interactions with them and supporting their stance by following, retweeting, and reposting their content.