Recently we reported that Facebook has removed more than 100 pages involved in fake news and the Indian elections. Now, it appears that India’s fake news network is growing in spite of the efforts.
WhatsApp: Fake News Platform in Indian Elections
The Diplomat has reported that WhatsApp has been increasingly used by spammers to promote fake news in India during the Indian elections. According to the report Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India and leader of the ruling BJP has perfected the art of disinformation. This type of political control, also known as 5th generation warfare, is rapidly becoming the go to choice for politicians in terms of swaying voters.
Modi has established a virtual army of volunteers to create groups of users on WhatsApp and distribute information. If the reports are true, the BJP has plans to establish at least 3 groups of WhatsApp users at each of the polling locations to be used in the Indian elections. This would theoretically give them access to more than 700,000 voters, making it relatively easy to spread fake news.
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In order to understand the effect of such a campaign, you must first understand the gigantic leaps politics have made using social media as a fake news platform in India. In 2014, during the last Indian elections, only 21% of voters owned a smartphone. This number has since doubled. However, along with the surge in smartphone ownership comes the risk of not being educated in how social media works. Many of the voters get their news information strictly from social media platforms, like Facebook and WhatsApp. This makes the spreading of fake news a very easy task for politicians from both sides of the aisle.
Social Media as a Propaganda Tool
Disinformation is not a new tactic for politicians in the Indian elections. However, with the rise of social media, it has become an invaluable tool for them to use. WhatsApp has been used by Hindu leaders to instigate violence in the past towards Muslims and other groups. By placing false information in the hands of the public it becomes easy to manipulate them into believing that the opposition is responsible for the problems within the country. The fake news generated has included instances of accusing the Congress party of stopping the building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and blaming the decline of the Hindu population on the kidnapping of Hindu women.
Fake news like this often leads to violence against the groups involved. Usually, in a country like India, this means the Muslim population is on the receiving end. The Indian elections have long been a hornets nest of fake news, but with the use of social media platforms the ability to spread it has become an even bigger threat to true democracy.
Preventing the Flow of Fake News
Facebook has taken a very active role in seeking out spammers and people who post fake news regarding the Indian elections. With recent actions including the removal of accounts and pages believed to be involved in spreading such rumors, the social media giant has made it clear that it will not be tolerated. While it is virtually impossible to squash every post that contains fraudulent information, they are taking steps to limit it.
The Indian elections are set to begin in just 2 days, and stemming the flow of fake news could completely alter the results. After the 2016 US elections, Facebook wants no part of a fake news scandal in country like India. Other social media platforms are also taking action to reduce improper use of their media. It will be interesting to see how the effort affects the outcome of the Indian elections.