India is experiencing a disinformation epidemic that is permeating the fabric of the country and polarizing the public, whether people are aware of it or not. Though extensive coverage is being given to this ‘fake news crisis’ in media discourse, the focus is often on the technologies that have enabled its fast proliferation rather than the socio-political atmosphere that encourages it and even less on the ordinary public that unwittingly distributes it. Through an experimental research, this study delves into how individuals engage with political (dis)information and the role that personal political attitudes play in that process. Research is conducted through an online within-subjects experimental survey in the run up to the 2019 Indian General Elections, focusing on the subset of the Indian population that are internet users and consumers of English language news. The collected data revealed that holding left or right-leaning attitudes influences the way in which attitude affirming or discrepant political information is engaged with. Guided by a greater need to avoid cognitive dissonance and achieve confirmation bias that impacts critical information processing filters, right-leaning individuals are more susceptible to believing disinformation when it aligns with their views than left-leaning counterparts. Growing polarisation of socio-political identities has also been identified as a factor, especially in the distinction between the consolidated right-identity versus the left-identity that is more loosely connected and more defined in their opposition to the right. These results need to be viewed in the context of the growing power of the BJP and the mass appeal of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has become central to the socio-political imagining of the country. The results of this quantitative study compliment the findings of previous qualitative research, which highlight the alignment of the rise of BJP and Modi with the surge in nationalismfuelled disinformation distribution.

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J. Ferreira Goncalves
Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

M. Shannon. (2019, June 24). Fake News and the Polarized Indian Studying the relationship between political attitudes and engagement with disinformation. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from