From 11th April to 19th May, 900 million Indian citizens will elect parliamentary representatives in every state.
Social media will play a major role, shaping public discourse and influencing voters in the so-called “WhatsApp elections”. Now, authorities are seeking to address digital platforms’ murky but significant impact on the political process.
But what constitutes political advertising?
These groups spread information about prime minister Narendra Modi’s campaign and his government’s achievements. Meanwhile, opposition party the National Congress recruited 138,000 of its own WhatsApp “assistants”.
Using hyperlocal content to amplify centrally-determined ideological fault lines could simply be considered smart politics. And stories which embitter caste and faith divisions are a reliable way of eliciting public fervour.
However, even if “bulk SMSes/Voice messages on phone” qualify as advertisements—WhatsApp’s encryption anonymises senders, making it impossible to trace a message to its source.
Where does the organic dissemination of political messages end, and intentional propaganda begin?
And how can either be regulated if they occur on encrypted platforms?
Credit for this article's header image goes to Getty.