Karnataka elections has once again exposed the menace of fake news which has plagued the stream of our social media.
What is the issue?
Electoral dirty tricks and propaganda during elections have always been a part of our politics but with the expansion of social media the problem has expanded multiple times to put the whole electoral process at risk.
Learning from global examples –
- United States has used ‘computational propaganda’ in Cuba and the West Asia for strategic gains in favour of favourable candidates or parties.
- Russians have developed a software for information warfare.
- Drug cartels in Mexico are suppressing Twitter debates to prevent their businesses.
- Dictatorships like China has built China’s citizen score to control the social media usage. Similarly, Singapore has followed the same grounds by establishing ‘data controlled society’.
What is the risk?
Strategic commentators have called it Espionage 2.0 whereby your election machinery is attacked by stealing personal data and the information collected is leaked in return for a sum of money or other favours, including blackmail.
Is India at risk too?
- As a democracy, India is prone to electoral manipulation risks. With an increased social media users, social media wards between Indian political parties have crossed all ethical standards, as discovered in Cambridge Analytica scandal.
- In the upcoming Karnataka elections, it is alleged that social media could influence as high as 58% of the electorate which is why a huge sum of money is being invested in social media propaganda.
- It is not just the electorate which is vulnerable to such risks, but the political parties and the Election Commission are also becoming reliant on digital communications increasingly. Traditional attempts to rig elections such as kidnappings, assassinations and booth capturing have been replaced by technological manipulation which is clean and easy.
- Most importantly, there is an increasing threat from foreign interference such as Chinese and Pakistani influence to hack Indian elections.
What can we do about it?
- Firstly, there is a need to limit the unrestrained export of data from social media.
- Secondly, there is a need to expand the definition of ‘sensitive personal data’ under the proposed BN Srikrishna Committee on data protection.
- Thirdly, Whatsapp must be compelled to stop sharing with its parent company ‘Facebook’, as has been done in countries such as the United Kingdom.
- Fourthly, there is a need to work with social media platforms to create reasonable ways to regulate online hate and fake speech while balancing the need to protect freedom of speech and expression. A clear definition for ‘hate’ and ‘fake’ would help in this regard.
- Fifthly, we should move ahead in removing voter registries from the public domain.
- Sixthly, we need to study the abuse pattern – potential and actual both – by technology platforms using their dominant position.
- India also needs to form new norms and rules on political advertisements and sale of data to third parties.
What can Election Commission do about it?
- It needs to establish a cybersecurity unit and train officers and political staff in basic cyber hygiene.
- It also needs to work towards greater international cooperation with technology companies.
- It should also push the government to strengthen domestic laws to recognise and punish cyber interference in elections (such as Indian Penal Code and IT Act, 2000).
India should look this moment as a moment of opportunity to clean the current political mess that plagues our electoral mechanism and look ahead to the difficult scenarios that may arise in the future to protect our long-cherished democracy.
Source – Livemint
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