04 Feb 2021: Farmers' agitation catches world's eye, courtesy five-member social media team
With their tweets, pop star Rihanna and Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg drew attention to the farmers' protest that has been continuing since November.
Their posts enraged the Indian government but infused new energy into a small team behind the online clout of the agitation.
The team of five members is using social media tools to battle misinformation and drum up support.
Beginning: Farmers turned to social media after being labeled 'Khalistanis'
The agitation against three market-friendly agricultural reforms wasn't always going to be digital. But farmers understood they will have to wage a war when rumors about their cause surfaced.
Baljeet Singh Sandhu, the Vice-President of the Majha Kisan Committee and head of the social media team, said, "We have been called Khalistani terrorists and what not? We knew that we had to counter it."
Team: Five farmers took the protest digital in December
It was in December that five tech-savvy farmers brought their laptops from villages and set up an office of sorts, called "hub," at the Singhu border, one of the epicenters of the agitation.
The team, which has two farmers each from Punjab, Haryana, and one from Rajasthan, devises hashtags, pushes slogans on social media, and live-streams press conferences of farmers' leaders.
Reach: Kisan Ekta Morcha has 338,722 likes on Facebook
Tellingly, while Samyukt Kisan Morcha is leading the protest on the streets, its digital wing Kisan Ekta Morcha is ensuring that the agitation has enough momentum online.
The Twitter account — @Kisanektamorcha — has over 202,000 followers. It has a comparable number of Instagram followers and 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube.
On Facebook, the verified Kisan Ekta Morcha page has a staggering 338,722 likes.
Facebook: Facebook shut down the page mistaking it as spam
The online popularity of the movement can be gauged from the fact that on December 21, Facebook flagged the page as spam, due to the rapid gain of followers. It was restored after social media outrage.
"We were live and we got a notification that the page is unpublished and that was very strange... We didn't get any warning," Sandhu said at the time.
Help: Online presence sparked protests in several international cities
With help from social media tools, the agitation went global. Protests happened in cities like New York, Sydney, London, Melbourne, Ontario, and California.
A little help from other bodies helped as well. For example, the Non-Resident Indian Council in Punjab's Ropar coordinated with Indians abroad and organized protests.
"My son, a resident of Houston coordinated the protests there," head Mewa Singh told HT.
Block on Twitter: Twitter blocked Kisan Ekta Morcha's page, restored it later
While the Kisan Ekta Morcha gained popularity online, it was hit by a roadblock on Monday when its Twitter page was blocked. It was restored later.
The federal government fumed at this and reportedly sent a notice to the micro-blogging website, as the permission for unblocking was never granted.
To note, most of the blocked accounts had posted tweets with the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide.