Use of Disinformation or “fake news” as a weapon to polarize communities, create conflicts, and upset democratic systems, has been heightened in the social media infodemic. Initial calls for an alert on this infodemic came when political parties called out manipulation of the electoral results. They blamed disinformation as one of the major causes of their failure. In the Former US President Donald Trump’s era, use of the term “fake news” also became popularized after Trump referenced it in his media talks many times. Recently, a leaked Whatsapp conversation of the Indian News anchor shows a Government-Media nexus that used the Balakot incident to incite nationalist sentiments of the public to vote for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. In the face of political hue and cry, however, we should not lose sight of the larger narrative in this age of fifth-generation warfare.
Pakistan faces the infodemic of Fake news not only at the national level but at the international level as well. At the national level, the disinformation evolves in quantity, not in quality. Every three months protests erupt in Pakistan, threatening peace and state order in the country. Whether they are religiopolitical, on social justice, or are carved to make an effort to overthrow the government, they create instability. Peaceful protests are a right of the citizens, however, in this age of 5th generation warfare, where foreign state and non-state actors wait for sparks of conflict, disinformation can be made a tool to disrupt order and create disruption. The nature of disinformation is primarily old videos and images used to represent something in the present, especially if they have an element of violence or are highly politicized. Parties seeking instability, use Facebook and Whatsapp in abundance to misinform people and spread fake news, creating rest and causing people to act in a way damaging the state order and public peace. Most people who fall victim to fake news are those who social media as the main source of information.
In all issues, the kind of disinformation which was perpetrated was pretty simple, and not that difficult to debunk. It’s just the organized manner in which it is produced every single day multiple false claims using photos, images, and text. In fact, it is just going to keep increasing because political parties have found out that if you put out organized disinformation, then any political narrative can be controlled.
Recent two incidents, whereby Indian state and non-state actors used disinformation as a tool are proven by evidence that shows Indian efforts malign Pakistan globally. In December 2020, the Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab uncovered a vast network of 265 coordinated fake local media outlets in 65 countries serving Indian interests, as well as multiple dubious think tanks and NGOs. This network was active in Brussels and Geneva in producing and amplifying content designed to, primarily, undermine Pakistan. In the investigation titled Indian Chronicles, the group has exposed another Indian network that aims to reinforce pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan (and anti-Chinese) perceptions in India.
Internationally, the network is working to consolidate the power and improve the image of India, and damage the reputation of rival countries so that ultimately India may benefit from more support from international institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations. This propaganda achieved by deliberately disseminating one-sided and/or fabricated information supported by the internet acts as a form of psychological warfare to undermine the enemy without the use of physical force for you to go to war.
The disinformation campaign also led to the Indian public believing that Modi’s policies had UN and Europe’s support and exacerbated their negative sentiments against Pakistan.
Having a similar impact on Public sentiments, the second Indian Government disinformation scandal came out on 17 January 2021, when Whatsapp conversation of Arnab Goswami, the notorious Anchor known for his flashy news reporting head of rating company, Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), Pratho Dasgupta were leaked. The conversation provided irrefutable evidence that Indian Prime Minister Modi can apparently kill his own soldiers, risk a nuclear regional conflict and buy the Godi Indian media, just to win the elections.
The February 26, 2019, Indian airstrike on Balakot was publicized as India’s response to an attack on February 14, 2019, in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed after an explosive-laden car driven by a suicide bomber rammed into their bus.
The Whatsapp conversation shows that three days before Balakot air strike, Arnab Goswami had texted Partho Dasgupta and said “something big will happen” adding, “Bigger than a normal strike.”
The Whatsapp conversation made an impression that the Modi government itself deliberately killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Pulwama and then blamed Pakistan as the terrorists. All of this happened months before the April 2019 elections that the Modi government
Way Forward 2021
Both disinformation campaigns strongly portrayed Pakistan in a negative light in the world. Now that evidence is present, the motive is clear, rest is left all upon the victim to highlight the issue and take it to court. Immediate action on the two scandals should have been, Pakistan taking it up to the UN, International Court of Justice, and European Union for justice and flagging of the culprits and launching diplomatic missions.
A more long-run effective approach would be to initiate a healing campaign that tackles the damage caused by these two incidents on the diplomatic front, National front, and as well as on the ground level, reaching out to the Indian and Pakistani Public to clear out any false perceptions. Diplomatic missions should be created for the sole purpose of defending Pakistan’s case. The national narrative should be spread out. Mass Media can be used for both fighting and dispersing disinformation. Focusing on the fighting part, effective public awareness campaigns can be run to promote a truer image of Pakistan. Controlling fake news is a preoccupation of the technology platforms, the political class, the news media, and an increasing tribe of citizens concerned about democracy being hijacked. They can reach out to the end-user of the information and educate them to be more precise about the news by informing them of verification tools so that they can verify the accuracy of a news item before sharing it.
The government can take initiatives of endorsing and strengthening relevant media exchanges, workshops, training of journalists, and interactions with technology firms that are willing to work with them to fight this nuisance. Rigorous fact-checking and investigation by well-trained teams of journalists and the new type of specialized fact-checking organizations can be supported by technological solutions, with the deployment of technologies like AI, in the fight against disinformation, especially large-scale online harms. Tracking the source of disinformation can be used to address the issue at its roots and solve it there.
As the tools, tactics, forms, and communities involved in creating and disseminating disinformation evolve, defenders of the truth must make a resolve to fight it mindfully. Using the same mediums the fake news spreaders take to fight back vehemently yet tactfully. In due time, Pakistan needs to realize and strategize according to the needs of this fifth-generation- psychological warfare weaponry for the greater good and greater peace.