What Circulates on Partisan WhatsApp in India? Insights from an Unusual Dataset

Authors

  • Simon Chauchard University Carlos III Madrid
  • Kiran Garimella Rutgers University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.51685/jqd.2022.006

Keywords:

WhatsApp, misinformation, party strategy

Abstract

In countries ranging from the Philippines to Brazil, political actors have embraced WhatsApp. In India, WhatsApp groups backed by political parties are suspected of conveying misinformation and/or of circulating hateful content pointed towards minority groups, potentially leading to offline violence. They are also seen as one of the reasons for the dominance of the ruling party (the BJP). Yet, despite this narrative, we so far know littleabout the content shared on these partisan groups nor about the way in which (mis-)informationcirculates on them. In this manuscript, we describe the visual content of 533 closed threads maintained by party workers across the state of Uttar Pradesh, collected over aperiod of 9 months. Manual coding of around 36,000 images allows us to estimate the amount of misinformation/hateful content on one hand, and partisan content on the other. Additional matching of this data with other sources and analyses based on computer vision techniques inturn allows us to evaluate the extent to which the content posted on WhatsApp threads may serve the interests of the ruling party. Analyses suggest that partisan threads contain relatively few hateful or misinformed posts; more surprisingly maybe, most content cannot easily be classified as “partisan”. While much content appears to be religion-related, which may serve an indirect partisan role, the largest share of the content is more easily classifiable as phatic or entertainment related.

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Published

2022-02-23 — Updated on 2022-03-02

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How to Cite

Chauchard, S., & Garimella, K. (2022). What Circulates on Partisan WhatsApp in India? Insights from an Unusual Dataset. Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media, 2. https://doi.org/10.51685/jqd.2022.006 (Original work published February 23, 2022)

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