Kinzen's Weekly Wrap - January 14, 2022

Last week we turned our focus to the forthcoming Brazilian elections. They take place in October, but this week we want to look at a fascinating set of local elections happening much sooner: India. Five states - Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh - will be polling between February 10 and March 7. I spoke with a member of Kinzen’s editorial network about the challenges regarding misinformation and hate speech in India ahead of these elections. 

Ahead of the elections next month, how are you seeing misinformation evolve in India right now?

There is a lot happening regarding misinformation in India but the focus ahead of elections is on political disinformation against opposition leaders and misleading claims (leading to hate speech) about minority communities in the country.

Political disinformation is on the rise at the moment as we come closer to these state elections. For instance, a spokesperson of the ruling Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tweeted images with a misleading claim to target a significant opposition leader in the state of Uttar Pradesh. 

Even more concerning is the targeting of minorities which includes Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. On New Year’s Eve 2022, prominent Indian Muslim women were mock auctioned on an app named Bulli Bai. In December 2021, genocidal calls against Muslims were heard at a Hindu religious convention organised in Uttarakhand, which also saw an attack on a Christian prayer room in October 2021. 

I’ve been reading fascinating journalism about an app used in India to hijack the trending topics of social platforms and direct abuse at female journalists. Anything to share about that? 

We have seen misleading claims originating from parties across the political spectrum but fact-checkers in India have observed that misinformation coming from India’s ruling party BJP is way more prevalent than others. The investigation by the Indian publication The Wire into this app (Tek Fog) gives us an explanation into how this may have been made possible. 

From controlling online narratives to phishing inactive WhatsApp accounts to generating fake stories by morphing URLs of real news items, the app powers all sorts of strategies. The claims made by the whistleblower, verified in the investigation, make it evident that there is a connection between BJP and the controversial app. Currently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs has asked the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah to provide information on the app. In the coming days, we hope to see further discussions related to Tek Fog. 

For Your Headphones This Weekend

This week, The Lawfare Podcast featured recent analysis from the Brookings Institution of US podcasts that promoted lies regarding the 2020 election. The audio format presents challenges to moderators and researchers, so hearing the methodology undertaken for this analysis is useful. This is something we’ve written about before, and we continue to work on a range of innovations to make this task easier. Listen to the podcast here.

Editor’s Pick: Book Slot

This week, I’ve been reading Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare by Thomas Rid. It’s a compelling historical summary of disinformation campaigns spanning 100 years. He begins in the 1920s and gradually moves through the decades. 

Rid argues that to understand modern disinformation, we have to look back at its evolution. This makes his conclusions regarding modern times all the more convincing. For him, “The internet didn’t just make active measures cheaper, quicker, more reactive, and less risky; it also, to put it simply, made active measures more active and less measured.” Now, they are “more scalable, harder to control, and harder to assess once they have been launched… Disinformation, as a result, became even more dangerous”.


Recommended Articles: From the Kinzen Slack channels this week

Grid. Can fact-checking solve the misinformation pandemic?

One of the first articles from the new media site Grid is a deep dive on fact-checking. This provides an excellent summary of fact-checks: how they bring benefits, and also how they don’t always change people’s minds.  

The Wire. Tek Fog: Morphing URLs to Make Real News Fake, 'Hijacking' WhatsApp to Drive BJP Propaganda 

This is the second update from India’s The Wire on this controversial app that was mentioned already above.

Irish Independent. Cabinet to sign off on new rules for social media

Regulation of social media is one of the big topics for 2022. In Ireland, we’re keenly watching what’s going to happen next with these proposals.

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