Indian Politics Micro-Targeting, the Vulnerable Indian Voters - Editorial

Background Context

In recent, there was a huge outcry in response to the hiring and consulting, by major Indian political parties, of UK-based company Cambridge Analytica, an analytics and data mining organization.

The dire episode of Cambridge Analytica pinpointed the immediate need to employ the authoritative establishment to regulate the social media platforms, spread globally by means of collective data protection law to overlook, scrutinize and penalize the activities concerning mass micro-targeting for political interest.

The recent development of the draft titled Data Protection, the draft Bill 2019, introduced to safeguard personal information and privacy, the infamous debate decided to resurface again after highlighting the dire episode of Cambridge Analytica.

Development in information technology services, regular modern development in digital technology, and advancement in social connectivity must go hand in hand with the development and refinement of required regulatory policies by the respective government. However, this is not the case, despite spending tons of money for absolute digital governance, the government establishment is never in sync with technological development, and this results in the exploitation of public data, by political parties and private organizations for personal interest.

The Dark Side of the Social Media Platforms

  1. Fake news or Non-existent & deformation scenarios are produced by private entities and transmitted (deliberately spread) and propagated for accessing the electoral currency and largely for political interest.
  2. Frequently the government’s own party and establishment (through the hidden purchase of political advertisement and IT expertise) could be heavily involved.
  3. Such activities see success in countries like the Republic of China and the Russian Federation where the government is actively involved in regular monitoring of internet activities, and control and likely manipulating the entire internet infrastructure.
  4. Lack of genuineness, false point of origin, data integrity, false information (misinformation), and deception (fabricated news) widely spread and circulated in internet media is the least controllable and cumbersome task for regulatory authorities to keep track of in addition to the restrictions of geographical borders.
  5. The collective results of this wide influx of false information being spread across the wide gigantic internet have an ill effect on the communities spending time on the internet, making the internet one of the most heated and hateful places, causing lynchings on roads, planned murders, and riots in cities.
  6. In the 21st century of WhatsApp, Tinder, YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter and etc. It is a particular issue of widespread rumors, false fabricated morphed images, falsely motivated communal stories, unauthentic and unvalidated information, deliberately planted stories for varied interests, get circulated and boosted among 350 million internet users (35 crores and counting) in India.
  7. There are many scenarios and accountable facts figures of online rumors, and misinformation that eventually end up in the killings of unrelated and innocent individuals. Very often in awkward situations, reputed and responsible ministers have been found to delete tweets after noticing the fake news that they hurriedly tweeted earlier, oops!
  8. Very recently, during the season of the Assembly election of Karnataka (2018), misinformation without any authenticity and originality of it, circulated and flooded the internet media. Now, these are common occurrences in India.
  9. Posting the selfie on the internet for appreciation and self-advertisement has already started counting the deaths across the world, these are termed “selfie deaths”, which can be elaborated as the individual dying in an attempt to take a selfie. India has topped the list of highest selfie deaths in India. Internet in India has always remained the entity of abuse.

Sphere of Unregulated Data Exchange

The basic KYC, personal information about the Indian voter has always remained the top commodity of abuse and is under significant threat as the huge data about the Indian voters is circulated, reproduced, stored, and being collected without any consent of the individual or concerned party.

Photo by Kaur Kristjan / Unsplash

Moreover, it is the most difficult task and cumbersome job to find and identify the methods put into practice, the measures employed by these firms to collect the sensitive private information of an individual, as most of these methods are ad-hoc in nature.

Many political parties have privately hired consulting firms closely associated with a group of ministers and bureaucrats. The voter's data or popularly known as an electoral currency is favored by all political parties and the threat remains looming and slowly brewing under the protection of bureaucracy, and remain untouched by the loopholes in freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Profiling the prospect voter is the hottest new thriving business globally. Not to mention that there are highly well documented and proven techniques when it involves electoral campaigning.

Regulation/No-Regulation on Social Media

  1. The velocity and wide reach of digital social media have meant that disruptive rumors and false news get aired unchecked or without any scrutiny.
  2. This has caused notable law and order issues. In India, these occurrences and circumstances have undertaken dangerously significant proportions. Fake and false news, circulated on WhatsApp has witnessed lynchings and communal blow-ups in almost all and every part of the country. This menace must be stopped before it becomes an incurable disease (maybe we are already there).
  3. In the internet dimension, some of the other data-regulated data protection laws must be implemented, in order to direct or command the social media companies in developing public opinion.
  4. The current version of the data protection draft enables the Central Government to get in touch with companies involved in social media or data fiduciaries (data manipulators on behalf is users) if only their active userbase crosses a particular slab or particular level and may likely possess an ability to impression on electoral democracy.
  5. The provision supports significant discussion to safeguard that digital tools are used for the establishment of fair and unbiased democracy, through citizens' active engagement and not in any form or occurrence or in any combination for targeting voters' personal data.
  6. India’s democracy is severely dented, harmed, and flawed by regular and repetitive abuse of identified exploits, thus resulting in severe loss of personal information.
  7. Some believe that the impartial face of the internet coupled with freedom of speech and expression is the new era of liberal democracy, while others strongly disagree with this thought.
  8. Technology on the wrong hand will have an unrecoverable and ill effect on the quasi-federal nature of the Indian democracy thus strongly proposing to employ well sync data protection law.

While innovators around the world have contributed to developing more digitally advanced technologies, the government institutions and regulators haven't been ready to sync or catch up with them. There are tons of outlines of this information age;

Hence, the extent or reach of data protection policies and frameworks also must be attentive to the magnitude of the wide influx of data usage.

Conclusion

Any conversation or constructive talk initiated on the introduction of additional regulation and policies to control social media brings up unsettle trouble about involuntary privacy and mandatory surveillance.

Hence, any proposal or proffer in the context of regulating utterance over the internet has got to be corresponding and existing with sufficient redressal mechanisms and without any provisions of possible covering.

Any forthcoming would be legislation to restrain or suppress the fake news should take into account the entire picture under consideration and not only condemn (accuse) the media (especially the digital media) and go for immediate and absurd reactions; the freedom provided by the digital media over the internet is also the demerit anyone around the world can produce and circulate news for unaccountable and undisclosed interest and benefit.

Restraining and limiting fake news may be a heck of a job: Not limiting trolls could lead to domestic and international uncertainty while too much attention to them and efforts to suppress these trolls, could permanently harm democracy.