By Ursula Daxecker (Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences), Stefania Milan (Faculty of Humanities).
Digital platforms and mobile apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook have become important political tools in elections in India and other emerging democracies in the Global South but have potentially worrisome consequences. In diverse societies, religious, ethnic, and political cleavages are often mobilized during elections and parties leverage these cleavages in their microtargeting of voters through social media platforms. The ruling party in India, for example, uses in-depth profiles to target voters based on caste or religious demographics, spreading messages among like-minded individuals. This microtargeting often relies on misinformation and hateful rhetoric that could exacerbate existing divisions and prejudice, increase polarisation, or even contribute to hostilities and violence. Our project asks how political microtargeting and misinformation, in particular hostile messages involving ethnic or religious cleavages, affect people’s beliefs and democratic attitudes in India. We conduct surveys and survey experiments following the 2021 elections in several Indian states to study the implications of political microtargeting for citizens and the exercise of democracy.