Mike Benz, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Communications and Information Technology at the US State Department, has claimed that elements in the US-UK foreign policy establishment carried out a biased campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP ahead of the 2019 Indian general elections.
Benz, who is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Freedom Online, a non-profit organisation focused on digital liberties, in an interview with the Sunday Guardian stated that despite PM Modi’s positive relationship with the then President Donald Trump, these elements within the administration, including social media tech companies, think tanks, and State Department officials, collaborated to depict PM Modi’s electoral victory as the result of a "misinformation campaign".
According to Benz, US tech platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and possibly others, were involved in the censorship.
He said the US foreign policy establishment worked to censor chat apps like WhatsApp where Modi supporters were spreading pro-Modi messages.
This censorship was reportedly put into play in response to news reports that labeled Modi’s political success as a result of "misinformation" online.
Benz also said that while he was at the State Department, he received recommendations from think tanks like the Atlantic Council to promote censorship of "misinformation" abroad in "nationalist" or "authoritarian" governments.
He stated that Modi’s name was frequently brought up in lists of countries where US tech companies should more actively engage in "content moderation."
When asked if the US government agencies, including the State Department, were aware of this interference, Benz stated that it would be surprising if the State Department’s Global Engagement Center was not placing pressure on US tech company liaisons to facilitate censorship of Modi/BJP in India.
He added that the State Department often keeps a close eye on the social media influence of political parties and communicates with US tech companies when they are hostile to a foreign leader.
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