HRW’s call for human rights in India’s 2024 elections

As political parties leverage digital platforms and tech companies face pressure, HRW advocates for urgent measures to uphold human rights standards during the Indian elections.


According to Human Rights Watch, technology is expected to highly intervene in the upcoming Indian 2024 general elections. As India ratified international human rights treaties and is bound by customary law, it is normative that the human rights norms are respected during the elections beginning on 19 April.

Indian political parties extensively utilise digital platforms for campaigning. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in its capacity as the ruling party, has emerged as the leading spender on political advertising on both Google and Meta platforms during the first three months of 2024. Additionally, the party has established an extensive messaging infrastructure via WhatsApp. Alongside established political entities, there are also ‘diffuse actors’ lacking clear institutional or organisational ties, who considerably influence the spreading of political discourse across social media platforms to mobilise Indian voters. This shows informal networks can significantly impact political discourse and voter mobilisation, often outside traditional party structures.

Meta has been accused of selectively addressing hate speech and misinformation in India, often amplifying such content, particularly anti-Muslim rhetoric. Networks of fake accounts, some allegedly linked to government authorities, also spread misinformation. The widespread availability of inexpensive AI tools poses new challenges for India’s 2024 elections, with AI-generated content deemed a threat to democracy by India’s Information Technology Minister. Several parties are already using AI in their campaigns for the upcoming elections.

HRW expresses additional concern over the significant misuse of personal data during India’s elections. Despite adopting a personal data protection law in August 2023, it remains non-operational. Notably, vast amounts of government-held personal data are being accessed by the ruling BJP, potentially facilitating targeted campaigns leading up to the 2024 general elections. Given the electoral context, tech companies bear the responsibility to conduct continuous human rights due diligence and adapt existing measures to address heightened risks during elections. This includes addressing aspects of their products, services, or business practices that could undermine free and fair elections, such as spreading electoral disinformation or inciting hatred or violence.

Indian authorities have placed considerable pressure, both formally and informally, on tech companies, pushing for the suppression of critical speech while permitting online speech from government-aligned actors that would otherwise breach company policies. In response to public demands, some platforms and messaging apps have announced steps they are taking to prepare for elections in recent years. Specifically, Google and Meta have outlined specific measures in anticipation of India’s 2024 elections. X also contributed with its fact-checking program.

HRW suggests the following to tech companies to maintain the elections respective to human rights: 

  • Social media platforms and messaging apps face challenges in India needing urgent adoption of effective measures to uphold human rights.
  • Despite the 2021 IT Rules and other restrictive laws, companies should resist pressure from authorities to remove content or provide access to data.
  • Companies offering AI-generated tools must show awareness of potential misuse during India’s elections and outline mitigation strategies in consultation with human rights and technology experts.
  • Companies should demonstrate sufficient investment in responsible moderation, including both human and automated methods, ahead of and between election periods.