John Harris

Journalist & Author

Is India the frontline in big tech’s assault on democracy? | John Harris

Social media such as WhatsApp may enable voters, but encrypted messaging polarises them and blocks public scrutiny

In 10 days’ time, two political dramas will reach their denouement, thanks to the votes of a combined total of about 1.3 billion people. At the heart of both will be a mess of questions about democracy in the online age, and how – or even if – we can act to preserve it.

Elections to the European parliament will begin on 23 May, and offer an illuminating test of the rightwing populism that has swept across the continent. In the UK, they will mark the decisive arrival of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, whose packed rallies are serving notice of a politics brimming with bile and rage, masterminded by people with plenty of campaigning nous. The same day will see the result of the Indian election, a watershed moment for the ruling Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata party, or BJP. Whatever the outcomes, both contests will highlight something inescapable: that the politics of polarisation, anger and what political cliche calls “fake news” is going to be around for a long time to come.

WhatsApp has more than 300 million Indian users, and it is Modi and his supporters who have made the most of it

Related: It’s not enough to break up Big Tech. We need to imagine a better alternative | Evgeny Morozov

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