The days that followed a suicide bombing on Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir this year, saw fake messages and misinformation, one of which claimed that a Congress Party leader had offered large sums of money to the family of perpetrators responsible for the attack, along with promises to free terrorists and stone palters from prisons, provided that the state voted in favor of Congress in the parliamentary elections that ensued. The message was prevalent on a number of WhatsApp groups that seemed to have promoted PM Modi and BJP. The main motive was to paint a picture, where Congress was shown to have a soft spot for Militancy in Kashmir.
With disinformation and fake news being bombarded at the Indian public from all sides, from television to platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. Unlike in the US, where fake news is mostly foreign sponsored, in India the misinformation is spread from internal sources.
Many campaigns tasked with spreading misinformation are run by nationwide cyber-armies mostly run by political parties, targeting political opponents, religious minorities and nonconforming individuals, resulting in widespread death threats and even actual murders. Recent example of which is the fact that in the past two years, nearly two dozen people have been lynched by furious mobs, based on rumors spread over WhatsApp.
These groups, sponsored by political parties, recruit, rally and roll-out news and updates for its members. In 2018, owing to acts of violence spread over WhatsApp, the company introduced and applied restrictions on message and media forwarding, limiting the number of users, content can be forwarded to.
Propaganda is spread like wildfire by political parties over WhatsApp, prime example of which is the BJP Cyber Army 400+. The Nationalist Group is aimed at saving the nation from political forces led by congress, communism and religious ideologies by Islam and Christianity.
Since the BJP’s strategy is to build a strong Hindu-Muslim, the aim at showcasing opponents as being pro-Muslims. In the Southern state of Telanagna, pro-BJP WhatsApp groups highlighted elements of congress manifesto aimed at providing benefits to Muslims and made efforts to undermine it, since Hindus make up almost 80% of India’s total electorate.
The strategy is not just WhatsApp focused. For instance, Modi’s Mobile-app NaMo, spread misinformation when it claimed that Pakistani PM, Imran Khan was crying on television when Modi warned Pakistan after February’s Kashmir attack.
In November 2016, Abhishek Mishra, posted offensive content against Madhya Pradesh’s former Chief Minister. Mishra, who was supposedly close to Congress, published stories and claims fabricated to claim that the Governor of India’s Central Bank was the most corrupt PM in India’s history. He was later detained.
Despite of Mishra being arrested on complaints by a woman of him posting inflammatory content online, runs a Facebook page by the name of Viral In India, having approximately a million followers, where he appears to share fake news against BJP-party.
Other Facebook pages like The India Eye, with more than 2 million followers also shared misleading and false posts, one in particular which was shared more than 19,000 times claimed that Sonia Gandhi, ex-president of Congress is the fourth-richest woman in the world. The page is also promoted on the NaMo app.
The battle seems to be playing on other smaller platforms as well, like ShareChat and Helo, with 40 million and 25 million active users respectively. Both of which are full of false claims, disinformation and propaganda.
Even though Social Media platforms have the major chunk of spreading disinformation, traditional medias’ doctored clippings and news played a major role in misleading the general public.