India is the world’s largest democracy. Every 5 years India holds general elections to elect its government. Usually, the elections in India are a large-scale exercise of perception management. Multi-crore mass media campaigns and large scale public rallies are the major players in this game of democracy in India. However, misinformation campaigns are a dire threat to the very fabric of Indian democracy.
Recently, Mike Benz came forward with information related to US State sponsored anti-Modi social media and digital media campaigns. Benz is a former US State Department official. He states that the US State Department was actively involved in creating a false narrative against PM Narendra Modi. His inputs have created a new perspective on misinformation campaigns in India.
The Threat that every Thread of Misinformation Poses
Misinformation campaigns are a critical challenge for the Indian elections. They pose a significant threat to the entire democratic process. Dissemination of ‘fake news’ through news channels and social media platforms is a popular strategy to influence public opinion, undermine trust, and distort the electoral landscape.
Social media fact-checkers are usually paid individuals with their own vendetta and agenda. News anchors are increasingly polarized into left- and right-wings of politics. They continuously influence the news with their own opinions. Sadly, the concept of unbiased information is lost in the era of Information Technology. Every thread of misinformation easily makes it into ‘the latest trends’ of all social media platforms. These trending hot topics of the day are either bought by one of the political players or are propped up by foreign entities/powers. However, whenever a trending topic is proved to be incorrect, it is buried or suppressed. Thus, the general public has a bigger impression of the fake-news compared to factual information.
Examples of Misinformation Campaigns
The goal of Misinformation campaigns is to shape public opinion by exploiting emotions, biases, and existing social divisions. They target sensitive issues, religious sentiments, and regional sentiments to polarize voters and manipulate their choices. These misinformation campaigns sow confusion and undermine the credibility of political opponents.
India saw two such major misinformation campaigns. The first was the case of Nupur Sharma. Islamists targeted this firebrand BJP leader via a viral video clip of her debate. This clip misrepresented her debate argument and presented it without context. This misinformation campaign instigated riots in the nation, while Nupur Sharma suffered social media boycott, fatwas, court cases, and death threats.
Consequently, BJP suspended Nupur Sharma. Moreover, the leader is still under investigation for hate crimes caused by her misrepresented words.
Another misinformation campaign has come to light recently. The 2019 general elections saw a high volume of fake-news about PM Modi. However, what makes this campaign sinister is that the US government instigated this campaign. They encouraged social media platforms to change rules and regulation prior to elections to stop the rising popularity of PM Modi. The US State Department pressured tech companies to censor content to limit PM Modi and BJP’s influence. They encouraged ‘content moderation’ for media platforms in order to influence the public opinion. Although, BJP won the general elections; news media and social media had a mixed response to the election results.
These examples prove that national and foreign powers are continuously involved in invoking the dissemination of fake-news in India. Indians must question the underlying reality of who gains by instigating such campaigns. Moreover, they must recognize the true face of those who participate in spreading smear campaigns and propaganda wars.
Consequences of Fake-News Campaigns
Misinformation campaigns have the potential to disrupt the electoral process in multiple ways. They can influence voter behavior, sway undecided voters, and create a hostile environment for open and informed political discourse. False information can distort the perception of candidates, parties, and their policies. Thereby, leading to an imbalance of power and an erosion of trust in democratic institutions.
The misinformation in Indian elections takes various forms, including fabricated news articles, doctored images, misleading videos, and manipulated narratives. Fake-news and fake-facts spread fast through social media platforms, messaging apps, and online discussion forums. They easily influence the thought process of millions of users within seconds. The anonymous nature of online communication allows for the rapid spread of misinformation. It is usually difficult to trace the origin or intent behind such campaigns.
The presence of AI further complicates the misinformation in today’s world. AI has made it easy to fabricate photographs, videos, and audios. Therefore, the availability of AI models has increased the damage fake information can cause in India and Indian elections. Consequently, the modern Indian voter must evaluate all information at face value. They must judge any piece of news by extrapolating its effects in advance. This may help Indians understand the propaganda behind each piece of information or news. Observation of work on ground and belief in factual data by reputed institutes remain the only gateways to ascertaining truth.