Smartphone-armed Indians fight election offenses and fake news

  • TECH
  • Friday, 12 Apr 2019

Indians look at a fact-checking website for election related fake news and videos, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. When India's Election Commission announced last month that its code of conduct would have to be followed by social media companies as well as political parties, some analysts scoffed, saying it lacked the capacity and speed required to check the spread of fake news ahead of a multi-phase general election that begins April 11. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

India’s election watchdog has asked the nation’s 400 million smartphone users to get engaged in the fight against election corruption and fake news as the world’s most populous democracy goes to the polls. 

The Election Commission of India has offered about a dozen mobile applications to help people document and report election violations such as cash giveaways and voter intimidation, as well as fabricated news reports shared on social media and chat platforms. Voting started Thursday and will run more than five weeks. 

More than 70,000 campaign violations have already been reported using the cVigil app, which is available on the commission’s website, and more than two-thirds of the reports have been found valid, according to the watchdog’s latest data. It’s not immediately clear how many reports of fake news have been received. 

The election watchdog has a permanent staff of only about 400 people to monitor India’s far-flung polls, which could draw as many as 900 million voters. The commission also enlists several million local residents, from teachers to police officers, to help out. 

Still, they can’t compete with the surveillance power of the citizenry in one of the world’s fastest-growing smartphone markets. When a violation is reported, area watchdog staff or their enlistees investigate. 

Some of the more notable results so far include seizure of more than 34.7mil rupees (RM2.06mil) found in a bag on a government bus and another 18mil rupees (RM1.07mil) recovered from vehicles parked at a government guest house. 

Like many countries, India has struggled with fake news, but a recent survey by the Pew Research Centre found that 39% said mobile phones had been a positive influence on politics, while 21% said they believed they had been a bad influence. 

Last month, the watchdog met representatives of social media companies – including WhatsApp Inc, Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc – and asked them to establish deterrents, including punitive action against those misusing their platforms. – Bloomberg

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