2024 is going to be a historic year for elections. Over 64 countries across the globe are going to hold their national elections, with over 49% of the world’s population heading to vote — the results of which will be influential for years to come. Given the circumstances, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2024 Global Risk Report finds that false and fake information is one of the major threats voters across the globe will have to battle as they exercise their right to vote. In this report, India was ranked highest at the risk of disinformation and misinformation.
The chart published by the World Economic Forum shows the varying degrees to which misinformation and disinformation pose a threat to different countries for the next two years, based on a ranking of 34 economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological risks. According to the report, this data is based on 1490 expert opinions across academia, business, government, the international community, and civil society, collected in a survey conducted between September 4 to October 9, 2023. The report defines disinformation as the intentional spread of false information by the author to mislead the audience, while misinformation is described as the unintentional spread of incorrect information.
India was placed at the top of the chart as a country where voters are at the maximum risk of being exposed to misleading content and misinformation. The report states, ‘Out of all risks, misinformation and disinformation were most frequently selected as the number one risk for the country by the experts, coming before infectious diseases, illicit economic activity, inequality (wealth, income), and labor shortages. The South Asian nation’s next general election is expected between April and May 2024 in a country of some 1.4 billion people”. In India, spreading fake news and misinformation is a punishable offense under the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act of 2000.
Fake news and disinformation have been on the rise in India over the past decade, with several instances leading to mob lynchings, communal riots, and hate crimes. India suffered from rampant fake news and misinformation campaigns during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Political parties utilized platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook to spread false information and lie about their opponents, agendas, and missions to garner mass support and heighten fear. The significant issue here is that often the outcomes of these campaigns spill over into real life, leading to ethnic and religious violence and protests. However, the impact of fake news is not limited to just elections. India grappled with this issue during crucial events as well, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to citizens becoming extremely polarized against certain communities and believing in false, misleading facts about the virus and its vaccine.
Besides ranking India at no.1, the chart also ranks Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and France in the top ten. These countries are also at severe risk of being affected by misinformation before their upcoming elections. The United Kingdom has been ranked 11th. Analysts from the WEF conclude the report by stating, “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”.
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