Skip to main content

WhatsApp misinformation: India "follows" Brazil, which elected extreme rightist

Jair Bolsonaro
By Our Representative
A Harvard University scholar has raised the alarm that "on the heels of a Brazilian electoral process that was marked by outrageous disinformation campaigns", India, where elections for the Lok Sabha are on, "may be witnessing the world’s next WhatsApp election."
Following the Brazilian elections last year, a far-right populist, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been called the Donald Trump of Brazil, won as president of Latin America's most populous country.
Quite like in Brazil, in India "disinformation", says Chinmayi Arun, a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, "ranging from false reports of what politicians said, to manufactured photographs depicting an opposition leader meeting with a suicide bomber, is spreading rapidly through social media platforms such as WhatsApp — and regulators are struggling to cope."
"This month", says the scholar in the Global Opinion column of a top American daily, "WhatsApp announced that it was blocking numbers flagged by the Election Commission of India for spreading 'fake news' and objectionable content."
She adds, "Before this, it had announced the launch of a new fact-checking 'tip line' service in India. WhatsApp has also introduced features such as limits on forwarding in an effort to slow down the spread of misinformation."
However, according to the scholar, who is founder director of the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University, Delhi, "These changes may all be too little, too late.Over the past year, India has seen cascades of rumours spread through WhatsApp with the same techniques used to great effect in Brazil: Public links allow people to join political WhatsApp groups."
Points out the scholar, "As rumors spread, they transition from political groups to general and personal groups and can even be picked up and amplified by the mass media. Research conducted after the Brazilian election found evidence that bots were used to forward misinformation from group to group." In India things are slightly different. Here, "human 'volunteers' forward the misinformation."
Warning that "there is also the potential for more targeting of information on WhatsApp than ever before", the scholar says, "To start with, WhatsApp permits any member of a group to harvest the phone numbers of all the other members of the group. Indian law requires mobile numbers to be registered and linked to government identification."
"This means", she insists, "that if the ruling party sends volunteers to join ideologically aligned groups and leverages its ties to the government to access the databases linking mobile numbers to individuals, it could theoretically identify individual members of WhatsApp groups. With access to this data, the ruling party can target misinformation campaigns — on social media and via text — to receptive audiences."
According to the scholar, "Even more worrying is the possibility that the government could have acquired access to lists of users’ phone contacts." Thus, "last year, WhatsApp was asked to share this data while under pressure from the Indian government over how it was used to promote lynchings in India."
"Though WhatsApp announced that it was unable to share the content of user communications with the Indian government, it made no mention of metadata", the scholar rues, adding, this is opposite to what it did in other countries, where "WhatsApp has shared such metadata with global governments."
Asserting that the "ruling party has already been criticized for collecting metadata from the phones of people who install the prime minister’s NaMo app", the scholar says, "If it somehow gained access to metadata from WhatsApp, one of the most popular social media apps in the country, it could map networks of voters who are in contact with each other."
Believes the scholar, "The potential for misuse of this data is obvious: A party would be able to target propaganda to affinity groups, giving it an unfair advantage", adding worryingly,"WhatsApp’s slate of recent announcements shows that it is now taking steps to tackle disinformation. But it is hard to gauge whether the company’s responses will change things for the better or the worse."
She adds, "The forwarding limit may slow down campaigns by groups with limited resources, but it would not slow down a political party with hundreds of volunteers willing to forward rumors as many times as necessary."
And while "WhatsApp’s effort toward blocking phone numbers flagged by the Indian Election Commission is also a good idea in theory", there is lack of "transparency and accountability in the process to ensure the commission’s reporting is neutral."

Comments

TRENDING

Rescind Gates Foundation award to Modi, demand three Nobel Peace laureates

Counterview Desk
In a major boost to those opposing the award to the Gates Foundation’s proposed to be awarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (2011) and Shirin Ebadi (2003), have in an open letter called upon Milinda and Bill Gates to withdraw their decision, stating Modi is allegedly involved in human rights violations.

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Report on "torture" in Kashmir jails: 44% detainees stripped naked, 29% electrocuted

Counterview Desk
A recent report titled “Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir”, published by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), has claimed to build “on the body of human rights documentation on torture” in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) through an examination of 432 case studies. It seeks to focus on "the trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, contexts and impact of torture" in the state.

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Bullet train impact report Japan agency property: Govt of India tells Gujarat NGO

The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) has told Gujarat-based environmental organization, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) that the detailed report of Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representatives on their visit to Gujarat and Maharashtra assess the impact of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project on farmers is not its property, but that of JICA.

NHSRCL letter to PSS, signed by activists Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant and Swati Desai, comes following the latter’s request to it on June 10 for the report. PSS was one of the NGOs that represented JICA on the project, saying, if implemented, it would adversely impact farmers, even as pointing towards the fact that the project itself is unviable and Indian Railways needs to invest, instead, more on upgrading the present railway infrastructure.
Following the NHSRCL reply, PSS has shot a second letter to JICA, insisting that the latter should share a copy of the report, even as providing details of the …

Karma tribal festival an occasional to campaign for tribal rights: IPMSDL

By Our Representative
The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), in a solidarity statement has suggested that the current Karam festival of Central India -- which seeks to promote sisterhood, friendship, cultural unity, and closer link to nature -- should be the occasion to campaign against alleged efforts to violently drive away forest dwelling communities from their forest homes.
"Millions are threatened to lose lands and livelihood under the implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006", the statement States, adding, "As corporate interests continues to enter tribal territories and extract profit from its natural resources, indigenous people are pushed to further marginalization and discrimination."
Asserting that indigenous movement in India "remains steadfast in keeping their culture, deeply linked to their lands alive by carrying out their heritage and struggles", IPMSDL, even as extending "…

Allow international human rights observers, media to access Kashmir: US lawmakers

Counterview Desk
In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two members of the American Congress, Pramila Jayapal and James McGovern, raising "significant concerns" about what they call "humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jammu & Kashmir”, quoting "credible reports" from journalists and advocates on the ground" have said that "the Indian government has detained thousands of people with no recourse, imposed de facto curfews on residents' and cut off internet and telephone access in the region.”

Amidst Modi celebrations, thousands protest 'massive' submergence in Narmada Valley

By Our Representative
Thousands of women and men gathered on at the Shaheed Stambh in Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, to raise their voice against what they called "the destruction of the Narmada Valley", protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat BJP rulers for celebrating the Sardar Sarovar dam being filled up to the full reservoir level (FRL) on September 17, which also happens to be Modi's birthday.
Calling it a black day for the people of the Valley, whose villages and farms got submerged because of highest-ever water level having been achieved in the dam, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which organised the parallel rally across the border with Gujarat, regretted in a statement that Modi's celebration at the dam took place amidst " martyrdom of the Valley".
The demonstration in Badwani was preceded by a vehicles rally, which took rounds of the city streets. They were joined by people from several villages of Dhar district. They gather…

Kandla Port Trust activities 'destroyed' mangroves, affecting rare camel species: NGT

By Rajiv Shah
Taking serious note of large-scale destruction of mangroves on about 750 acres in Bhachau taluka of Kutch district, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Delhi, has “directed” the Gujarat government, its forest department, and the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority (GSZMA), to “jointly inspect the area” and fix responsibility as to who is “responsible for obstruction of the creeks” next to the Kandla Port Trust (KPT), leading to the damage to the plantations in the area.

Narmada valley: SC notice to Gujarat, MP, M'rashtra on submergence sans rehabilitation

By Our Representative
Thr Supreme Court has issued notice to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments following a Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)-backed petition seeking the explanation as to whether large areas of Narmada Valley have gone into submergence by filling up the Sardar Sarovar dam up to the full reservoir level (FRL) without rehabilitating the project affected families (PAFs).