‘INDIA OUT’ Decoding the pattern of Disinformation: War without guns are fought online (Part-1)

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The India Out campaign led by the Former President and his supporters have been immensely gaining momentum in dispersing social unrest and has created a dubious scope that can pose as a National threat. While it is not only India that has shown concern but other foreign countries too, especially the diplomats who are staying in Maldives where embassies of other nations are set up as well. They have requested the state to strengthen security around their embassies.

WHY IS THE OPPOSITION SO ADAMANT FOR INDIA OUT?

Reports can date the activity relating to anti-India sentiment way back to when Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party (PPM) became President in 2013.

With his Presidential win, came the visit of China’s President Xi Jiping to Maldives on Sep 14, 2014. This was the first ever visit to Maldives by a Chinese President after 42 years of establishing democratic relationship between the two nations.This positive development incited Yameen to waltz his way into making deals and borrowing funds from China. He ramped up infrastructure projects with the funds.

About an estimation of 1.3 billion dollars of loans were stacked during Yameen’s rendezvous with China that were used into building the island country’s airport and the ‘Sinmale Friendship Bridge.’ It also built a 25-storey apartment complex and hospital in the Maldives. Yameen who preferred very close links with China also signed a very one-sided Free Trade Agreement when he visited China on 7th Dec 2017.The loans taken were estimated to be more than a quarter of Maldives GDP.

After a very gradual spread of influence by the Chinese and the support that backed Yameen led-PPM, a pattern in the dissemination of misinformation could be seen against opposition or any entity that risked Yameen of his power but the scalability was not evident back then.

Layering ground roots of the campaign:

It was not until Yameen lost power when incumbent President Solih won the 2018 presidential elections, that India Out movement became popular.Yameen had been charged with money laundering and was serving a five-year jail sentence.

Even during the times of Covid, the country was relatively coping well with the negative impact but amidst all these, the opposition coalition hosted protests in different parts of Maldives on 28th Aug 2020. The purpose behind was to create rift demanding for the release of of former President Abdulla Yameen. Participants of the demonstration also called for President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s resignation.So how did India Out started trending if the issue was about Yameen’s jailing and Solih’s resignation?

When the UTF agreement was signed between India and Maldives on 21 Feb 2021, people’s initial reaction read curiosity but handful of Yameen led online news portals ignited that curiosity into aggression by releasing very controversial articles to their sites. Despite the government’s declaration that the agreement holds no national threat as being accused by these news sites, they continued framing to gain public’s attention. These keyboard warriors has only one agenda i.e, to run this entire campaign on one issue that’s been speculated but has no validation till date.

The campaign in itself is a very well planned, executed propaganda. The protest for the year 2021 made rounds starting September.

Modern War is carried by Key-board warriors and small media networks

When it comes to modern warfare, it will not be justified if we don’t give credit to China— the leading ‘digital authoritarian’ who is already very invested in promoting their global image worldwide by investing billions into media sector.

The major Chinese media outlets have a global presence, in several languages and on all social networks, including those blocked in China (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram), and they invest large amounts of money to expand their digital audience artificially.

How is China’s regulation of media related to Maldives?

China and Maldives established good relation when Yameen was in power. This establishment further extended to CCP funding numerous scholarships, seminars and exchange programs. This pattern was not only observed in Maldives but this was observed for every other smaller nation that China has included under its Belt & Road Initiative.

Under this cultural exchange, CCP sponsors media tours for budding journalists from these nations to visit China which also includes meeting with top government officials. Many have speculated that Chinese investments in the media sectors of other countries, raises the probability of even greater influence in the country’s information space.

Beijing’s goal to formulate a new world media order includes manipulation of information, creating fake accounts on social networks to spread the Party’s propaganda in the media, trolls who are paid to influence/give direction to public opinion. Trolls defend, attack, stir controversy, insult, or harass their targets. Another way to stimulate authenticity is to have content published by third parties in exchange for money. This third party publication is the current scenario of Maldives, where small media websites are getting funded to direct a political campaign which clearly will benefit China in the long run if Yameen gains power again.

There is proof that sites were getting funded when 2018 elections were coming up and even now with the 2023 election closing gap such issues are getting resurfaced. The issues maybe different but the mechanics remain the same which is why an extensive research was conducted to establish connection and identify who are involved and how many sites outside of Maldives are aligned with the same cause, if so what is their purpose.

A report detailing all the information of the sites working currently within Maldives and viable evidence of the campaign getting boosted from foreign aid across suspicious sites will be listed in part-II of this article .