Close to this time last year, a more unusual sent me a message on WhatsApp saying his life was under danger.
Raju Rai, a 32-year-old Indian national, had responded to a Facebook advertisement for a sales consultant position in Thailand just two months prior.
Rai took the first flight to Bangkok in order to earn money in US dollars and send money home after becoming dissatisfied with his low salary at an IT company in the northern Indian city of Varanasi.
However, things did not go as planned. Rai was picked up by locals who were there on behalf of his new employer. They drove him eight hours inland to a riverbank, where they put him on a boat that crossed the border into Myanmar.
In the end, Rai arrived at a vast compound with dozens of apartment and office blocks where thousands of Indians lived and worked.
“I met individuals from wherever in India, from my town in [the northern state] Uttar Pradesh to the edge of [the southern state] Kerala,” he told me.
The majority of them were men with one occupation: ripping off wealthy Westerners.
Within a matter of days, Rai realized that he was entangled in a web of cybercrime syndicates operating in areas of Southeast Asia that appeared to be free of law. For the purpose of carrying out a variety of online frauds, these syndicates recruit workers from developing nations.
Rai claims that he and his colleagues set up phony social media accounts to pretend to be pretty girls and befriended potential victims in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe by offering love and friendship.
The con artists asked the target if they were ready to build a shared future once they had them hooked.
They convinced naive foreigners to invest all of their savings in phony cryptocurrency exchanges hosted on their company servers and forced them to convert their savings into cryptocurrency.
According to Rai, those who were unwilling or unable to meet the daily targets were beaten and tortured and prevented from leaving the heavily guarded compound.
When he tweeted a rescue request tagging Indian authorities, including the Myanmar embassy, he was in solitary confinement. I sent him my phone number after seeing his tweet; we talked that very day.
He and dozens of other Indian hostage workers were evacuated from that compound over the following weeks.
I inquired about Rai’s communication with the workers who were still trapped there once he was safely home. He was in fact. A large portion of them would have rather not returned regardless of constrained work and actual savagery, since they didn’t see their possibilities in India changing at any point in the near future.
“They are procuring a huge number of dollars consistently,” Rai told me. ” They have no means of contacting them again.
The overabundance of young Indians who are unemployed or underemployed has virtually created a vast pool of skilled labor that can be targeted by transnational con artists.
As India’s population surpasses China’s this year, the unfulfilled ambitions of its numerous youth—more than half of its 1.4 billion people are under the age of 30—can impose a burden on the rest of the world if left unchecked.
Numerous Indian millennials are having trouble finding work. India’s economic expansion does not depend on young workers manufacturing goods, in contrast to China, which leveraged its demographic dividend through large-scale factory employment.
Close out of the customary work market, the options India’s working-age youth are investigating will figure the eventual fate of work internationally.
For maybe the initial time ever, we see an unconventional blend: against the backdrop of a shrinking job market and an internet that is changing quickly and has a large youth population that is ambitious and tech-savvy.
The direction that this is taking in India provides crucial information for the rest of the world about what might be in store for them.
The gig economy must be rethought
Recruiters in India complain of a talent shortage due to a lack of relevant education and skills training outside of elite campuses, despite the expanding market for legitimate technology jobs.
The IT industry, which currently employs approximately 5.1 million people, could only accommodate a small portion of the 4.75 million Indians who enter the labor force annually even if more job seekers upgraded their skills.
The remainder must look elsewhere. Taking care of a market of 750 million cell phone clients, India’s quickly developing gig economy is drawing in youthful specialists en masse. They deliver food, transport commuters, and carry beauty kits for at-home facials across major cities at any hour of the day.
In theory, the platform economy combines regular work with the freedom to opt out in a novel way. However, practically speaking, there is either too little work or a lot of it – and with each errand bringing about just a negligible commission, few can stand to switch off their gadgets.
Many gig workers in India are questioning their career choice as a result of the increasing number of instances of exploitation and abuse.
I spoke with a 19-year-old man who delivers packages for an online retailer in March. When Mithun Kumar, a high school dropout from Bihar’s provincial region, arrived in Delhi last year, he was pleased to find employment waiting for him.
Additionally, he valued the freedom to choose his own days off, which allowed him to relax in his bed or in the park.
But Kumar now feels like he’s stuck waiting for the app to send him work because he doesn’t have any money in savings and he has money problems at home. He is considering returning home.
He stated, “I will work at my uncle’s shop for motor repair.” Although he may not be paid immediately, he is prepared to accept any opportunity to begin “real work.”
Companies in the technology industry that are attempting to reimagine work can learn a lot from the experiences of people like Kumar, who are rejecting technology-facilitated on-demand employment despite the lack of alternatives in the real world.
The world of work may require a new direction if gig labor is losing its promise in one of the largest markets for low-skill jobs.
Taking care of the web-based entertainment beast
India’s young people are influencing technology’s future in other ways. YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram are just a few of the world’s most popular technology platforms, and the majority of their users are Indian.
Their patterns of social media use are influencing how the platforms will look in the future, leaving millions of impressions with likes, shares, and quote-tweets every day: a rise in hyperlocal influencers (engendering high levels of trust in product), the expansion of social commerce (history of selling and buying within small communities), and more videos (which address the issue of low literacy rate).
In order to prepare for worse-case scenarios, the leaders of Big Tech might also want to investigate the behavior of Indian users.
The spread of false information is now more than just a problem on the Indian internet. More frequently than ever before, hate speech, deep fakes, and fake news are posted and shared.
As of late, a 28-year-old cow-insurance vigilante who ended up being stunningly famous by posting disdainful recordings against Muslims, was connected to the homicide of two Muslim men. In the police report that was filed last month, Mohit Yadav, also known as Monu Manesar, who had previously denied being involved in the incident, was listed as an accused.
Manesar got a Silver Play Button, which is a YouTube Creator Award, for having more than 100,000 followers. Manesar can no longer make money from videos, according to YouTube, which said it removed him from its partner program later.) His blue tick on Instagram was additionally stripped.
However, the move is too late. Human rights organizations that study hate speech online have said that they raised concerns with social media companies prior to the killings that Manesar’s posts posed an immediate threat to human life.
Social media companies have done little to combat the hate that is circulating on their platforms in multiple languages because they are neither willing to alienate their key user base nor prepared to confront the Indian government. A Facebook spokesperson previously stated that the company was committed to updating its policies as hate speech evolves online and had invested heavily in technology to locate hate speech in various languages, including Bengali and Hindi.)
What is going on in India today can easily be replicated in any other location with a failing democracy, cheap internet, and a large young population forced into idleness given their apparent lack of incentive to crack down.
No one is safe from fraud or persecution unless the world creates meaningful jobs as quickly as it connects young people.