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Last Updated : Mar 14, 2019 04:40 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Election Commission's social media policy: How much cover do the rules provide?

Even though the Election Commission has laid out an expansive social media policy ahead of general elections this year, yet the efficiency of it on ground is still to be tested.

Aakriti Handa @aakriti_handa
Facebook's election war room at its Menlo Park office (Image: Facebook)
Facebook's election war room at its Menlo Park office (Image: Facebook)

Social media has now become an inevitable part of the political discourse in India. All the national, as well as regional, political parties and leaders have established a social media presence and significant follower base.

For the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission has issued a demarche to political parties on the use of social media for campaigning.

The polling body said it will closely monitor any content that is aimed at vitiating conduct of elections or has the potential to disturb social harmony.

In fact, this is the first time that social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google have confirmed their willingness to work with the EC to uphold the integrity of political campaigns on their respective platforms.

The demarche included the following postulates:

1. The EC has broadly identified five types of social media platforms –

a) collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia)

b) blogs and micro-blogs (e.g. Twitter)

c) content communities (e.g. YouTube)

d) social networking sites (e.g. Facebook)

e) virtual game-worlds (e.g. Apps)

The rules which apply to campaigning on other forms of media – Model Code of Conduct – shall now also apply to social media.

2.  The EC has asked candidates to furnish information such as verified social media accounts at the time of filing nominations.

3. National, as well as regional political parties and leaders, can no longer release political advertisements on social media without pre-certification from monitoring committees.

4. Candidates and political parties now have to furnish expenditure on election advertisements on social media. This expenditure includes payments made to PR agencies, digital content agencies as well as staff hired to maintain an individual’s/party’s social media account. The cap to total expenditure, of which the aforementioned spends on social media is now a part, is Rs 70 lakh per candidate.

5. Political parties are also expected to adhere to the 48-hour ‘silence period’ online as well. Considering that it is online, this would warrant pulling down existing ads from social media.

Read Also:  Comment | Code of conduct cannot put the Social Media genie in the bottle

6. The EC, through the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee, will work with social media companies to flag objectionable content to grievance officers who will then pull them down within a specific time duration.

This essentially means:

Not all memes will be acceptable

Political parties cannot make personal attacks at each other’s candidates. However, they are allowed to criticise based on policies and past records. Any posts laced with caste or communal undertones will not be tolerated.

Say no to Fake News

Political parties are not allowed to base a criticism on unverified reports. Fake news, which has unfortunately become the meat and bone of social media platforms, is not only difficult to track but also cannot be attributed/traced back to a single source. In such a situation, the onus is on social media platforms to self-regulate in a more efficient manner.

Un-blur the lines between advertisement and post

 Even though advertisements need to be pre-certified by the EC, it is difficult to demarcate the difference between sponsored content and a personal blog post laced with a political party’s agenda on social media. In fact, this is a loophole which is going to be salvaged the most by parties.

What about WhatsApp?

Forwarded messages on WhatsApp can’t ideally be considered advertising if they haven’t officially come from the party. Hence, it’s extremely tough to police that.

Image: WhatsApp

Even though the Election Commission has laid out an expansive social media policy ahead of general elections this year, the efficiency of it on ground is still to be tested. And one big question still looms – how much cover do these rules actually provide?
First Published on Mar 14, 2019 04:40 pm
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