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India’s election overshadowed by the rise of online misinformation

As India kicks Following the world’s biggest elections, which begin on April 19 and end on June 1, the electoral landscape is overshadowed by disinformation.

The country – which has more than 830 million Internet users and home to the largest user base of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram – is already at the highest risk of misinformation and disinformation, according to the World Economic Forum. AI has further complicated the situation, especially with deepfakes created with generative AI.

Disinformation is not just a problem for fair elections: it can have deadly effects, including violence on the ground and increasing hatred towards minorities.

Pratik Sinha, co-founder of the Indian non-profit fact-checking site Alt News, says there has been an increase in the deliberate creation of misinformation to polarize society. “Since social media has boomed, there has been a new trend of using misinformation to target communities,” he said.

The country’s great linguistic and cultural diversity also makes it particularly difficult for fact-checkers to review and filter out misleading content.

“India is unusual in its size and its history of democracy,” Angie Drobnic Holan, director of the International Fact-Checking Network, told TechCrunch in an interview. “When you get a lot of misinformation, you really need to check the facts, and what makes India’s environment more complex is also India’s many languages.”

The government has taken steps to combat the problem, but some critics say enforcement is weak and Big Tech platforms aren’t helping enough.

In 2022, the Indian government updated its IT intermediary rules to require social media companies to remove misleading content from their platforms within 72 hours of reporting it. However, the results are unclear and some digital advocacy groups, including the Internet Freedom Foundation, have noted selective enforcement.

“You don’t want to have laws or rules that are so vague, so broad that they’re open to interpretation,” said Prateek Waghre, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation.

Google and Meta made announcements about limiting misleading content on their platforms during Indian elections and blocked their AI bots from responding to election queries, but have not announced any significant product-related changes or strict action against fake news. Additionally, just before the Indian elections, Meta reportedly cut funding to news organizations for fact-checking on WhatsApp.

Now, fake news proliferates on social networks. Doctored celebrity videos asking citizens to vote for a particular political party And fake news on code of conduct model applied to public programs and private discussions were widespread online before the start of the elections.

Hamsini Hariharan, a subject matter expert at Logically, a UK-based fact-checking startup, told TechCrunch about the trend of “cheapfakes” – content generated with less sophisticated measures of modifying images, videos and audio – widely shared on social media platforms. in India.

Last week, 11 civil society organizations in India, including nonprofit digital rights groups Internet Freedom Foundation and Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC.in), urged India’s Election Commission to hold back political candidates and social media platforms responsible for any misuse.

Hariharan pointed out that the scale and sophistication of misinformation and disinformation has increased significantly in the last five years since India’s last general elections in 2019. The main reasons, according to her, are the increase in penetration of the Internet – it has increased from 14% in 2014 to around 50% now, according to World Bank data – and the availability of technologies to manipulate audiovisual messages, low media literacy and a loss of media credibility General public.

Logically, we have noticed a particular increase in attempts to sow doubt about electronic voting machines. Its fact-checkers found that older claims, particularly videos and texts from Supreme Court hearings regarding voting machines, were circulating without enough context. There have even been posts about these machines being banned, faulty or tempered, as well as hashtags such as #BanEVM circulating among Facebook groups with thousands of followers.

Alt News’ Sinha acknowledged that misleading content online has rapidly increased in the country. He stressed that social media companies do not help limit this type of content on their platforms.

“Is there a single report published in four years on the performance of their fact-checking company? No, nothing, because they know it doesn’t work. If it worked, they would have gone to town with it, but they know it doesn’t work,” he told TechCrunch.

Holan believes there is plenty of room for product changes emphasizing precision and reliability.

“Platforms have invested heavily during COVID in trust and safety programs. And since then, there has clearly been a pushback,” she said.

Meta and However, a Meta spokesperson highlighted the existence of a WhatsApp tip line, launched at the end of March, and an awareness campaign on Instagram to identify and stop misinformation using the built-in features of the platform.

“We have a multi-pronged approach to combating misinformation, which includes creating a network of industry-leading fact-checkers in the country, including training them to combat AI-generated misinformation ” the Meta spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

X did not respond to a detailed questionnaire sent to the press’ generic email address, but said: “Busy now, please come back later.” »


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