Fake Endorsements, Online Disinformation Mar India Election

India’s six-week election was staggering in its size and logistical complexity, but also in the “unprecedented” scale of online disinformation.

The biggest democratic exercise in history brought a surge of false social media posts and instant messaging, ranging from doctored videos to unrelated images with false captions.

Raqib Hameed Naik, from the US-based India Hate Lab, said they had “witnessed an unprecedented scale of disinformation” in the elections.

“Conspiracy theories… were vigorously promoted to deepen the communal divide,” said Naik, whose organisation researches hate speech and disinformation.

With seven voting stages stretched over six weeks, AFP fact-checkers carried out 40 election-related debunks across India’s political divide.

There were fake videos of Bollywood stars endorsing the opposition and those purporting to show one person casting multiple votes.

Some were crude or poked fun.

Others were far more sinister and sophisticated productions aimed to mislead deliberately.

‘Fear and animosity’ –

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came under fire for posts stoking sectarian tensions with India’s minority Muslim community of more than 200 million.

These included numerous videos, matching incendiary campaign speeches by Modi, falsely claiming his opponents were planning to redistribute India’s wealth in favour of Muslims.

Naik said such posts “aimed at stoking fear and animosity towards Muslims to polarise voters along religious lines”.

“The ruling party’s strategy of exploiting religious sentiments for electoral gain has not only undermined the integrity of the democratic process but also sowed dangerous seeds of division and hatred in society,” he said.

False information was detected across the political spectrum but the leader of the opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, was one of the leading targets.

His statements, videos and photographs were shared on social media, but often incompletely or out of context.

Channels TV

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