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The Misinformation Epidemic in India



The World Economic Forum’s 2024 Global Risk Report stated that the threat of misinformation and disinformation is a major one that looms over people in the climate of upcoming elections around the globe. India ranked the highest where the risk of misinformation and disinformation is the most pertinent coming before other risks like corruption, illicit economic activity, infectious diseases, or even labor shortages. Misinformation describes the information that is often spread because people genuinely believe in it (as is the case with theories on conspiracy) whereas disinformation refers to something that is spread purposefully to misguide their recipients

Other countries facing the imminent threat of misinformation and disinformation are El Salvador, Pakistan, Romania, Ireland, the United States, Sierra Leone, France, and Finland. WEF analysts think that “The presence of misinformation and disinformation in these electoral processes could seriously destabilize the real and perceived legitimacy of newly elected governments, risking political unrest, violence, and terrorism, and a longer-term erosion of democratic processes.” India is set to have its general election between April and May 2024 in a country with a staggering population of some 1.4 billion people.

India has not been spared from widespread internet access and the digital revolution that now engulfs the world. About 86% of the nearly 1.4 billion people had a mobile by the end of 2020 a survey stated. The boundless and extensive use of the internet raises the question of its negative impact on people. As short-form content has become the norm, people rarely check or cross-check the media they are consuming and are invested in.

Internet media companies like social media platforms, and OTT platforms, profit from algorithms to reinforce certain ideas and increase addictiveness to their software. The situation has changed a lot from when the internet was a separate place as was the case with cyber cafes. It is now an all-pervasive entity that monopolizes the home, office, educational institutions, and places of leisure. It is now impossible to think of a time when the internet was not as omnipresent. Algorithms now encompass people’s lives and provide them with a reinforcement of what they already know and are familiar with. This leads to the formation of echo chambers and can stun the growth and thriving of a healthy democracy. 

This problem is further made grave with the proliferation of the use of AI that promptly blurs the distinction between reality and what is perceived as real. Different forms of media have let supporters of parties and even the leaders themselves weaponize disinformation and add fuel to the fire. Instances like this increase in number during the time of elections. 


2019 was a year of turmoil and fake news was at the center of it with events like the farmer’s protest, and protest against NRC-CAA, scraping of Article 370 despite measures taken on behalf of the government and several not-for-profit organizations. “2019 has been a unique year where fact-checkers continuously kept moving from one event to another, and this year has been the busiest year for us so far,” said Jency Jacob the managing director of BOOM. BOOM works with Facebook to check stories and tag offending posts in case there are any.

Instances like clips taken from a video game being presented as a purported attack on Pakistan gained momentum in social media gained momentum. Pictures of victims of a heatwave were being spread as alleged killing of militants in Pakistan. Facebook removed hundreds of misleading pages and accounts associated with national parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Many of the problematic posts and misguided information come from the party itself and are spread by the workers and supporters.

Keeping the upcoming elections in mind, the Election Commission has plans to set up a dedicated unit to tackle misinformation regarding the poll. On the eve of National Voters’ Day (25th January 2023), the Chief Election Commissioner emphasized that the “sheer scale and speed with which social media can disseminate the facts and views/fake news has the propensity to overwhelm other aspects of the technology in the election management.”




Covid-19 brought in a surge of misinformation like no other that led to researchers around the world studying the absurdly complex situation. It made the fight against the disease way more difficult than it already is with doctors struggling to keep the predicament under control. Surfacing on social media were avid claims of using camphor, cardamom, and other various kinds of magical remedies, pseudoscience were prominent. 

A Sage study found that social media is the biggest source of misinformation with India ranking the highest (18%) followed by Brazil (9%) and the USA (8.6%). With 16% India ranked the highest in the category of misinformation being spread. The lack of proper media literacy and widespread social prejudices and superstitions aggravate the problem. The WHO stated that the pandemic is accompanied by an information epidemic; an infodemic.


It is extremely crucial to be hyper-aware of misinformation and disinformation during periods of crisis that escalate quickly, especially during times of crisis. With the upcoming elections, it would be pertinent for all media companies to verify and cross-check every bit of information they put out in the country's already volatile political climate.

In a heavily digitized world where the internet is ubiquitous in society, the only way to fight the evil of misinformation, disinformation, and cybercrime is through media literacy. In India, there is a significant digital divide where only 38% of the households fall under the category of “digitally literate”. 

In this day and age, it is quite pertinent to introduce media literacy as a curriculum in educational institutions at different levels for young people to inculcate from early on. Similarly, as a fundamental skill media literacy should be made widespread among adults. Advocating the building of user-friendly websites and easy-to-use applications can also help in this aspect, even for people who are not tech-savvy. 

Recognizing existing disparities and taking steps accordingly is important to bridge the digital divide and empower people of all age groups and backgrounds in their fight against misinformation and disinformation.


Edited by: Avanie Hiranandani

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