India Battles Fake News as Election Heads to Halfway Mark

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India is trying to clamp down on fake news spreading widely on social media as the world’s biggest election enters its next phase.

The social media head of the Indian National Congress was arrested on May 3 over accusations he may have doctored a video of Home Minister Amit Shah, a top ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Tuesday, the Election Commission of India ordered social media platform X to take down an animated video posted online by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka state, calling it “objectionable.”

Kolkata police have also instructed social media users to remove a doctored video of opposition leader Mamata Banerjee for being offensive.

The Election Commission of India on Monday issued a notice to political parties reminding them to be responsible and ethical in their use of social media.

Campaigning in India’s multi-phase elections have become increasingly acrimonious in recent weeks. Modi and other BJP leaders have ratcheted up anti-Muslim rhetoric at rallies and on social media, attacking the Congress’s welfare policies.

The Election Commission’s statement came three days after the arrest of Arun Reddy, who runs an account under the handle ‘Spirit of Congress’ on social media platform X. He’s accused of doctoring and sharing a video online of Shah at a rally saying he’ll end affirmative action policies for socially and economically backward classes in India. The BJP and Shah have repeatedly denied it would take such steps.

The Congress party in Kerala and Telangana condemned Reddy’s arrest on its social media accounts and demanded his release. The party’s spokesperson, Shama Mohamed, declined to comment Monday when contacted for further information.

The Election Commission has been tracking any cases of false information which could lead to voters being misled. Last month, a video circulating on social media showed a single person casting multiple ballots at a polling booth. The ECI clarified that the video was taken during a mock poll exercise, adding that action would be taken against the officer presiding over the exercise in Assam as it was not meant to be filmed.

There have also been several videos shared online showing Bollywood stars like Ranveer Singh and Aamir Khan criticizing the ruling party, which have turned out to be fake.

Modi is seeking to extend his decade in power by another five years, predicting his party and its allies will win 400 of the 543 seats up for grabs in the lower house of parliament. India’s elections end on June 1 and counting will take place on June 4.

(Updates with comments from Election Commission in second paragraph.)

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