Today’s geopolitics is heavily influenced by the advent of online and social medias. The interconnectivity between all the demographics today bypasses all physical and virtual borders. But the abundant connectivity also comes at price. The public is now more than ever, susceptible to misinformation.
On 9th December 2020, the EU Disinfo Lab released the details of a massive disinformation campaign operated by India since 2005 to serve Indian interests. The report uncovered how a massive network of 750 fake medias operating in over 16 countries were influencing the public perception to serve Indian interests. The network is reported to have direct control of over 10 NGOs accredited to the United Nations while retaining control of over 550 websites dedicated to spread misinformation. But the most frightening aspect of the report is that, the misinformation campaign was targeted primarily at India’s closest geographical neighbors, Pakistan and the Maldives.
Some of the fake pro-Indian News websites identified by the EU Disinfo Lab.
Dubbed the “Indian Chronicles”, the misinformation spread by the network was allegedly used to discredit the leaders of Pakistan and Maldives. The extent of this misinformation campaign was particularly visible in the case of the small island nation of Maldives. In 2018 just months prior to the Maldivian Presidential Election, an individual of Indian origins, Madi Sharma along with a fake NGO South Asian Democratic Forum (SADF), arranged a trip for several European Parliamentarians to the Maldives. Although the trip was an unofficial trip, the massive network of online medias operated by the “Indian Chronicles” portrayed the trip as an official trip.
Madi Sharma (on the right) next to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ultimately, this trip resulted with the international media getting bombarded with reports that the European Union was on the verge of implementing sanctions against the Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen for allegedly breaching Human Rights laws. This was later clarified by the European Union to have been an unofficial trip and no such action was taken against the Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen.
The same tactic was again used against then Government of Maldives prior to their 2018 Presidential Election when the internet was stormed with reports of alleged foul play being planned for the election. This resulted in the discrediting of then Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen along with the international community losing confidence in the Government of Maldives.
The European Union and several other international organizations refused to monitor and observe the 2018 Maldives Presidential Election citing alleged foul play based on these malicious reports generated by the “Indian Chronicles”. These clear attempts at influencing elections through disinformation shows that it has become of the biggest threat to democracy in the 21st century.
The alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election also displayed similar tactics used to interfere in foreign elections. The investigations and the subsequent reports produced by the US Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election through misinformation campaigns serves as testament to the extent of damage such networks could do to undermine democracy to serve the interests of a foreign nation. Furthermore, it also shows that no country is safe from the ill effects of foreign influence through misinformation.
Following the 2018 Presidential Election in the Maldives, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen’s government was replaced with an Indo-centric government led by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. His administration has been marked by its bold decision to announce that it’s foreign policies will revolve around “India First”.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih after conferring the nation’s highest award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Though no official investigation has taken place in the Maldives regarding the apparent misinformation campaigns used against them undermine their democracy, Pakistan needs to preemptively take countermeasures against possible foreign influence for the 2023 General Elections.
The act of influencing elections through misinformation is without a doubt malicious in nature while also an act of espionage to compromise the democracy and destabilize the very core of a state. Such espionage cannot lightly dismissed and will prove to be one of the biggest hurdles for the future of democracy in the 21st century.