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Digital India - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.

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Over the past week, I’ve been focused on the concept of digital regulation – largely inspired by the Indian government's new Digital India Bill. The proposed bill will reportedly focus on a plethora of issues, including digital competition, online harms, and misinformation.

As a concept, government-led digital regulation makes perfect sense. We all know that as the world moves further into online spaces, so do threat actors. Accordingly, proactive measures to prevent real-world threats like radicalisation and child sexual exploitation seem like positive steps towards a more resilient future. However, challenges arise when such legislative measures are used to combat misinformation and fake news. In a post-truth world, who gets to determine what is true or false?

Take Turkey for example. In 2022, the government introduced new legislation that criminalised what it vaguely described as ‘misleading information’, while formalising the status of social media companies. Essentially holding them liable for content uploaded to their platforms. Following this, the country saw an increased crackdown on journalists and civil society groups, notably leading to the censorship of political opponents and dissidents on social media during the 2023 election.

The Digital India Bill is already reminiscent of Turkey in 2022. In the same way that Turkey's legislation focused on misinformation targeting 'national security', the bill aims to regulate fake news and misinformation that pose threats to India's 'national unity'. It also, similarly, proposes to hold social media companies accountable for content accessible on their platforms. This paves the way for subjective judgement, creating a potential for arbitrary government censorship – which is something the Indian government has already been accused of.

What's more notable, however, is the timing. Officials have introduced the Digital India Bill in the run up to the 2024 general election (and amid ongoing Legislative Assembly elections). If misused during this time, it could enable the Indian government to arbitrarily censor dissident voices and deem legitimate (albeit unfavourable) news as ‘fake’, thereby mimicking behaviours seen during the 2023 Turkish election cycle. This will likely reshape India’s digital landscape – changing the ways in which social media platforms engage with their users, citizens express dissent, and online threat actors behave.

In light of these very real challenges, and very real possibilities, the Digital India Bill seems double-edged. To me, it brings to mind questions of transparency, truth and legitimacy, and above all, the universal question – at what point does democratic dissent become ‘anti-state’?

More about Protection Group International's Digital Investigations

Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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