The social media is agog with bad information, which can be further categorised as dis-information, misinformation and mal-information. Derakhshan and Wardle bring out that mal-information does harm at the phase of their creation (by targeting the agent), production (by targeting the message) and distribution (by targeting the interpreter).
Sangeeta Mahapatra, a brilliant Research Associate from the German Institute of Global & Area Studies, Hamburg, brings out how the abuse of information technology is becoming a real threat to democracy. She received three political WhatsApp forwards; one showing a BBC survey predicting BJP victory, another showing Sachin Pilot defiling Modi’s face on a billboard and a third, a video showing how BJP goons are thrashing a Muslim man. When she got back to the senders showing, how each one of them is patently false with verifiable evidence, they did not get back.
These weapons of information warfare have become deadlier due to the social media that has led to lumpenisation of the literates. Disinformation is thriving because of misinformation.
Countries like India, Myanmar, Turkey and Germany are suffering an increase in hate crime fuelled by social media-driven disinformation campaigns. In 2018, the Oxford Internet Institute has come out with a report on the use of big data manipulation by political parties in countries like India. Disinformation campaigns are less about moulding mindsets and more about pandering to subterranean biases of the society.
Social media aids the velocity, vitality and volume of divisive and dangerous speech. The silencing of political opponents, individual critics is not done by government only but by the online army of data capitalists, who have the money to maintain a monopoly over who gets to speak and who does not. Political populist parties become data capitalists, who thrive on ‘US’ Vs ‘Them’ rhetoric.
Prof. Ruth Wodak in her book ‘The Politics of Fear’, analyzing the speeches of right-wing populist parties in Europe, found how they thrived on the ‘politics of fear’ and ‘arrogance of ignorance’. India has around 450 million smartphone users. They are veritable source of misinformation. Digital education is required to sift out falsities from facts. Political parties and people have to be made accountable for spreading disinformation.
Sadly with the emasculation of institutions like the Election Commission, and most of media sub-serving corporate interests, abuse of information technology has become a real threat to democracy in India. Opposition is the lifeblood of democracy. With the mantle of opposition being worn by an inheritor of a political dynasty who does not allow committed and dynamic leaders to come to the centre stage, the ‘rightist rhetoric’ is having a field day in India in cahoots with data capitalists, corporates and analytics! Electoral propaganda has hit an all-time low!
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