Digital tools in the public sphere must be used as shields and not weapons

The success of tech-led governance is visible in various innovative schemes and digital platforms.
The success of tech-led governance is visible in various innovative schemes and digital platforms.


  • As digital tools are an integral part of our democracy and public life now, it’s vital to reduce the risk of their misuse. This is a challenge.

As India’s democracy nears the end of the world’s largest electoral exercise, it is evident that digital technologies have changed the whole landscape of Indian policymaking, reshaping governance, citizen engagement, political campaigning and elections. This transformation has not only streamlined bureaucratic processes, but also brought services closer to the people, fostering financial inclusion and digital empowerment. 

Ministries and government departments have embraced digital tools to raise transparency, efficiency and accountability. Performance dashboards, social media handles and grievance redressal mechanisms like Twitter Seva have become standard features of governance, allowing citizens to interact directly with the government and monitor its performance.

The success of tech-led governance is visible in various innovative schemes and digital platforms. Jan Dhan Yojana accounts have enabled financial inclusion by giving over 500 million unbanked citizens access to banking services through electronic KYC. 

Digilocker has simplified document management for citizens and reduced reliance on physical copies. UPI has transformed digital payments, making transactions easier and faster. Fastag has eased congestion at toll plazas and improved traffic flows. The GSTN has modernized India’s taxation system. 

The DBT system ensures the targeted delivery of subsidies and benefits directly into the bank accounts of beneficiaries, minimizing leakages and corruption. Jeevan Pramaan, a biometric-enabled digital life certificate, has simplified pension disbursement for retired government employees.

MyGov has emerged as a key platform for the government to reach out to citizens far and wide with information. It has facilitated direct interaction between citizens and policymakers, allowing feedback, suggestions and participation in policy and law formulation. Leveraging AI tools and even memes, such platforms have engaged citizens in the policymaking process, making governance more responsive to people’s needs.

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India’s election machinery has also been upgraded. Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines to go with Electronic Voting Machines marked a significant development for free-and-fair elections in India.

The rise of social media has had its own impact. During the 2014 elections, India had over 243 million internet users. In 2019, we had over 450 million, a large portion of whom were active on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, making these political battlegrounds. 

Over the past decade, social media has come to be dominated by memes, AI-generated content and synthetic videos. While earlier elections saw mostly text-based content, hashtags and image-based campaigns, today’s 839 million internet users in India are confronted with memes, deepfakes and AI-generated content.

Memes have become a particularly powerful tool for political communication, conveying complex messages in an easily digestible format. AI-generated content, including deepfake videos, has further blurred the line between reality and fiction. These technologies are being leveraged to create campaign narratives and influence voter perceptions. Even the Election Commission of India (EC) has used memes to reach out to young voters.

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While technology has empowered political campaigns, it has also amplified the spread of misinformation and deepfakes. In previous elections, misinformation was seen to spread rapidly through WhatsApp and other messaging platforms. However, in 2024, the use of AI has combined with social media algorithms to make misinformation more challenging to combat.

Deepfake videos, in particular, pose a significant threat to election integrity. AI-generated videos can manipulate speeches, alter facial expressions and create entirely fabricated scenarios, making it difficult for viewers to discern truth from falsehood. Political parties and malicious actors exploit deepfakes to discredit opponents and manipulate public opinion. Other than politicians, sportspersons and film actors have also become victims of deepfakes made with mala fide intent.

Recently, in Tamil Nadu, political parties used deepfake videos of deceased leaders to solicit votes from voters. On the other hand, some candidates have willingly circulated deepfake videos with special voice-overs to reach multi-lingual constituents and thus optimize their use of limited resources for campaigning.

Both the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) and the EC have taken proactive measures to mitigate these risks and secure India’s elections. MeitY issued guidelines under its IT Rules to social media intermediaries that are aimed at preventing users from posting harmful or prohibited content. 

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The EC has leveraged technology to combat the same threats. To uphold the integrity of Indian elections, the poll panel deployed educational campaigns, AI algorithms and partnerships with social media platforms.

Clearly, digital technologies have become an integral part of Indian policymaking in a variety of ways, and this digital adoption is shaping governance, citizen engagement and electoral processes. While various initiatives have delivered numerous benefits to people, including efficiency, empowerment and inclusivity, we also face steep digital challenges. As we move ahead, we must aim to ensure that digital tools work as shields rather than weapons.

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