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False Information Risk Is Highest in India, According To A Report by The World Economic Forum

According to the 2024 Global Risk Report by the World Economic Forum, India ranks highest when it comes to false information risk. In light of the Lok Sabha elections, which are about to take place between April and May this year, misinformation and disinformation are major threats that citizens will face. 

The report also highlights that among the 34 risks identified, false information and disinformation stood out as the highest, not limited to India but also globally. Other countries facing the same are ranked accordingly: the United States is at the sixth-highest risk of disinformation; the United Kingdom and Mexico rank at the 11th position, while South Africa ranks 22nd. 

The foundations of the findings come from 1490 expert opinions spread across business, academia, government, civil society, and the international community. The findings were collected between September 4 and October 9, 2023.

The report said, “As close as three billion people are expected to head to the electoral polls across several economies—including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—over the next two years.”_

The report also stated that people’s perceptions of reality will become polarized, penetrating the public discourse on various issues from social justice to public health. There will also be a potential risk of increased propaganda and censorship, where governments may resort to controlling information based on what they deem to be true. 

Other risks included in the report that India will face are infectious diseases, inequality in wealth and income, illicit economic activity, and scarcity of labour. 

The risks that nations will face in the next ten years are "rapid technological change, economic uncertainty, a warming planet, and conflict," which were also examined in the report. 

What Is Disinformation Or False Information?

Disinformation is when the author purposefully intends to mislead the audience. Misinformation is when information is passed around with genuine belief but can still be harmful. 

Disinformation or false information can be spread through media networks, which can potentially shift the public’s opinion and cause it to sway to favour a particular political party or cause. Moreover, it can potentially cause voters to distrust facts and authority. 

Therefore, content can be false, fabricated, and manipulated. 

Why Is This A Risk? 

The spreading of false information or disinformation can be severely harmful, as it will make the voters question the legitimacy of the elected government, which can lead to violent protests, civil confrontation, political unrest, hate crimes, terrorism, and the breakdown and decay of democracy and its processes. 

This risk also poses a threat to human rights, undermining public policies, raising tensions during times of emergency, and exposing citizens to political oppression. 

According to Vice, such mis/disinformation was already prevalent in the 2019 elections, where political parties took to weaponising platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp and sending seditious messages to supporters that could potentially lead to online anger and violence in the real world. 

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, misinformation through WhatsApp caused the government to team up with WhatsApp to curb misinformation about the virus. 

The report also revealed that technological innovations will be a catalyst for the spread of dis/misinformation. It will become more difficult for social media companies to manage and uphold the integrity of their platforms if multiple campaigns overlap with each other. 

The report states that minority communities may be targeted in the endeavour to spread misinformation, likely through WhatsApp and WeChat. Additionally, the rise in AI-related content is becoming more difficult to discern by the day for both digitally sound citizens and detection mechanisms. 

However, the report also notes that governments will start rolling out “evolving regulations” to combat the risks that target both creators and hosts of online disinformation and illegal content.

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