Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.
A smartphone user in New Delhi. Photo: Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Swelling nationalism and religious tensions are coloring two of the world’s largest democratic exercises, in India and Indonesia, thanks in part to incendiary misinformation proliferating on social media.
The big picture: Both countries have among the largest populations of social media users on the planet, and cheap smartphones mean more people are being connected every day. The propaganda and fearmongering we’re seeing isn’t new, but powerful tools are spreading it farther and more rapidly than ever before.
In India, political parties including the ruling BJP have “nationwide cyberarmies” that traffic in “targeted misinformation… rooted in domestic divisions and prejudices,” the Atlantic reports.
In Indonesia, meanwhile, both leading presidential campaigns have been “funding sophisticated social media operations to spread propaganda and disinformation through fake accounts on behalf of the candidates,” according to a Reuters investigation.
The big picture: The number of Indians with smartphones has more than doubled — to over 500 million — since the last national election in 2014. Ravi Agrawal, Foreign Policy's managing editor and the author of “India Connected: How the Smartphone is Transforming the World's Largest Democracy,” tells me that for millions of Indians, a smartphone is not only their first telephone. It’s their first camera, their first computer, their first TV.
Regulators and tech companies are scrambling to keep up. As Axios Media Reporter Sara Fischer puts it, “they’re creating war rooms, but they’re still losing the war.”
What to watch: Experts worry policies nominally intended to weed out fake news could actually lead to restrictions on free speech, Sara writes. The problem of disinformation is growing much faster than our ability to combat it.
Jokowi holds a massive rally in Jakarta. Photo: Ed Wray/Getty Images
India's election will be the biggest democratic exercise in history, but depending on turnout, Indonesia's on Wednesday might be the biggest single day election ever.
The big picture: Jokowi is Indonesia's first modern president from outside the military or political elite, and massive expectations accompanied him into office in 2014. He has long been expected to secure re-election (most polls have showed him leading by double-digits), but he played it safe by picking a conservative cleric as his running mate.
The contrast with his opponent, Prabowo, remains stark. A former general, he has been accused of ordering abductions and torture, among other abuses (he denies responsibility).
What to watch: This is a rematch. Jokowi beat Prabowo by 6% in 2014, but the former general declared that the election had been stolen. He's already made similar noises this time around, and Jokowi is hoping for a landslide that would muffle such claims.
Parisians watch from nearby roads and bridges as Notre Dame burns. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images
Few things are more horrifying than watching history burn.
On the scene: "Tourists and residents alike came to a standstill ... Older Parisians began to cry, lamenting how their national treasure was quickly being lost," per the NY Times.
Note Dame, photographed in 1859 or 1860. Photo: Oswald Perrelle/Roger Viollet/Getty Images
In "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Victor Hugo wrote: "Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries."
"The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder."
Vox's Constance Grady notes that when Hugo was writing (in 1831, less than two decades before the above photo was taken), the cathedral was in a state of disrepair. It was later rebuilt. Surely, it will be again.
Reactions to the news:
Yemenis search for survivors after a coalition airstrike in Sanaa in 2015. Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images
A new International Crisis Group report explores how the U.S. got involved in the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, where things went wrong, and what lessons have emerged for U.S. foreign policy.
The big picture: The authors write that "Washington initially overestimated its ability to shape coalition conduct and underestimated the devastation of the conflict it was helping enable." They also note that both Barack Obama and Donald Trump elected "to continue this assistance even after the miscalculations had been exposed."
Why the U.S. got in: The authors spoke with senior Obama administration officials who said they had viewed Yemen's president as a good partner, particularly on counterterrorism, and his ouster "as an affront to the international order."
Where things went wrong: The Obama administration recognized the war as a quagmire "within months," during which time "evidence of the coalition’s brutal tactics had already emerged."
What to watch: One lesson for Washington, the authors write, is that leverage over security partners like Saudi Arabia "sometimes can only be effective by taking the hazardous step of putting the partnership on the line."
Protestors today in front of Sudan's military headquarters. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
In Sudan, protesters remain camped outside army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, four days after a coup toppled strongman Omar al-Bashir.
In Algeria, demonstrations continued last Friday despite President Abdelaziz Bouteflika having been forced out earlier this month.
The bottom line: Protesters in both countries have managed to force out their presidents without firing a shot. But they want to transform the entire system, not just swap out the person at the top of it.
Celebrations of the Thingyan festival, also known as the Buddhist New Year, in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Sai Aung Main/AFP/Getty Images
"You shouldn’t ask questions like that.”— Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Washington Post reporter John Hudson. Hudson had asked Peru's foreign minister about the prospect of western sanctions deepening Venezuela's humanitarian crisis.
Thanks for reading — see you Thursday evening.