Digital authoritarianism in India manifests itself in the form of internet access for citizens being restricted, critical journalists being branded as enemies of the State and political opponents being dehumanised as well as vilified, a recent report by a global anti-censorship network found.

The report was published on August 4 by a network called Global Voices Advox. The researchers studied instances of digital authoritarianism between January 2022 and March 2023.

Apart from India, the study focused on 19 other countries – Brazil, Cameroon, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Hong Kong, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, Sudan, Tanzania, Turkey, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

“In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and its followers have long used their social media presence to promote their brand and troll religious and political minorities,” the report said.

The study noted that access to the internet in India was restricted in the wake of citizens’ protests. It said that such restrictions stifle the free flow of information and have costly economic side effects.

The report listed India among the countries where a narrative of critical journalists being enemies of the State was propagated. It noted that such a narrative is “is tied to media shutdowns, arrests of journalists, justifications for surveillance, and restrictive media regulation”.

However, the authorities in India put forward the argument that freedom of expression is not an absolute right to justify crackdowns on dissent and opposing voices, Global Voices Advox said. The study also found that India was among the countries where the authorities used national security as grounds for enacting legislation governing the internet.

“Authoritarian regimes have a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies, using them to advance their messaging and propaganda goals while restricting access for others in order to shape and warp reality, conceal abuses, and maintain power,” the report said. “This dynamic has intensified with the growth of the internet and related digital technologies.”