Summary of the Politics of Disinformation Report Launch

Published on Fri Sep 09 2022Yash Budhwar

This blog is a summary of the Future of India Foundation Politics of Disinformation report launch event that took place on May 5, 2022. The report can be accessed here. The event was addressed by Nikhil Dey, Nitin Sethi, Apar Gupta, Ruchi Gupta, Saurabh Sharma, Kumar Sambhav, and Prashanto Sen. This blog summarises the conversations that took place during the launch without attributing any of the perspectives to specific people.


Social media platforms have adopted design choices that have led to a proliferation of misinformation,  propaganda, and hate messaging, thereby allowing their platforms to be weaponised by powerful vested interests for political and commercial benefit. However, in a bid to evade accountability for the obvious harm this does, social media platforms have framed measures to curb disinformation as an attack on free speech. Misinformation and propaganda are inherently political and any sustainable way forward must be located in the democratic political process - including all political parties and citizens. Also, the current content-moderation approach to misinformation by platforms cannot stop the tide of misinformation unless supplemented by structural design changes.

Today's youth in India enter or frequent the democratic process through engagement and consumption in and of the public discourse. However, the public discourse has become driven and motivated by negative and toxic elements of social media and terms and metrics of engagement rather than anything substantive. This has not only deteriorated the quality of public discourse and caused harm to actual persons, but has distorted what it means to be political as it currently implies an association of oneself without necessarily being informed of their belief or opinion.

What have social media companies and platforms done in response? Besides shallow measures such as the banning of figures like Trump and content moderation efforts, very little in terms of substantive systemic or structural changes to their business models and/or mode of operations. These platforms get away with such measures because they lead us to believe that their moderation efforts cover all content and that they do not want to impinge on the right to free speech. So, despite their content moderation efforts truly only covering a minuscule, negligible percentage of the posts on such platforms, their message is that they are making the platform a safe space, wherein they are only doing a tiny proportion of the job, that too not equitably.

Such gamified terms of engagement and metric-based (followers, retweets, traction, etc) understandings of "free speech" serve only the vested interests of the social media companies themselves and cement their limited liability stance, where such agents are not merely distributors of information but active purveyors of different forms and types of content. These power centres are not mere hosting platforms but full-blown media corporations that not only host but also curate content as per their will and design. Thus, such platforms facilitate the active participation of the citizenry in the political process through the shaping of public discourse and creating information disorder without any accountability or responsibility.

Recommendations Made by Speakers

  • The RTI campaign in India began at the grassroots in a village and mobilised upwards and expansively from there towards dissemination and awareness of one's right to information and the responsibilities one has for what one says or does in a democratic process/universe. While parliamentary oversight over social media companies should be there, there should be some regulation and accountability built and driven from the bottom-up, like how the campaign against the three redacted farm laws by the MKSS took place in India. There should be a formation of a strong and broad coalition of all concerned stakeholders and the enactment of a charter on how disinformation can be tackled.

  • India is a consistent top-performing market for all social media platforms and the country houses the largest user base for multiple such entities. The EU has tackled this issue relatively well through its Digital Markets Act as the law deals with issues concerning monopolies and network effects of such platforms. The policies and laws that get enacted to tackle disinformation have to involve and situate the people in the process, unlike the self-regulation models of governance that are hyped about and implemented through the cornering of opinion by industry-led, biased voices.

  • Processes in this country that set out to tackle disinformation have to engage the rural youth residents of the country, and those who are digitally illiterate as they are the true change agents when it comes to democratic forces and enactments.

  • Disinformation is a purposeful profit-making business model of social media companies and platforms. Journalists can and should take up the responsibility of checking their sources of information, verifying what they publish and moving away from elite circles of networks/contacts, and attempting to disseminate perspectives and stories from the marginalised and unprivileged sections of society. Also, transparency does not lead to accountability necessarily. For example, country information reports published by the likes of WhatsApp, etc do not carry explainers or disaggregated sets of data and information. Transparency of highly technocratic processes needs to be accompanied by education and empowerment of the masses, otherwise, it is plain fudging and obfuscation of facts.

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