General Elections 2014 marked social media platforms as a major tool to impact the dynamics of politics. It is no news that social media played a key role to spread fake news, hate speech, and paid news to mislead voters. Hence, prior to the Lok Sabha 2019, Election Commission of India (ECI), along with the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), and social media giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter and other platforms, adopted a “Voluntary Code of Ethics for the General Election 2019” to regulate the misuse of social media.
The code allows the social media platforms to implement policies and processes which assure access to information on electoral matters which are appropriate while keeping in mind the principle of freedom of expression.1
With the increasing flow of fake news, paid news and hate speech to elevate the political propaganda, it becomes paramount to monitor political activities on social media. Following are a few measures taken by ECI and some social media giants:
- ECI made it mandatory for all the candidates contesting in 2019 elections to mention their social media handles in their affidavit. They also made it compulsory for all political social media advertisements to pre-certify from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMCs) in place at the district and state levels.
- Facebook partnered with third-parties for fact-check and made their Ad Library public which displays all active and inactive ads around social issues, elections and politics to bring ad transparency. Similar ad library measure has been also opted by Twitter and Google.
- Google went one step ahead and hosted training sessions for Indian journalists on online verification and fact-checking, journalist digital safety and security, YouTube for elections coverage and data visualization for elections.
- Now, Twitter only allows political campaigning ads to run via promoted tweets and in-stream video ads. To run political ads, the political advertiser has to obtain Twitter Certification.2
- In a white paper called Stopping Abuse released by WhatsApp in early 2019, the company revealed that they deleted around 2 million accounts to tackle fake news. 3 These accounts have bulk or automated behaviour which means they send high volumes of messages. WhatsApp also launched CheckPoint Tipline which allows its users to submit suspicious content to know its authenticity. In 2 months of CheckPoint’s launch, it received about 75,000 authentication requests from the users.4
- ECI together with social media platforms have developed a notification mechanism. The electoral body notifies about the violation under Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, and on other matters. Post which, an action is taken on such violations within three hours.
- During General Elections 2019, Twitter deleted around 220 tweets by May, Facebook deleted about 702 pages, accounts and groups (as reported on 01 April 2019).5 About 60 Facebook political advertisement posts were found during the silent period.6 These contents were taken down on the grounds of violation of Code of Ethics, communal hate, junk news and bypassing anti-spam.7
With this as the background, we land up with some important questions like how far we have reached with the above-listed regulation strategies. Are the implemented strategies enough to tackle the spread of fake news, hate speech and paid news for a country like India? Are voters even aware about the above-listed regulation strategies? How gravely have social media platforms affected General Elections 2019? Did the impact of social media decrease in this General Elections in comparison to General Elections 2014?
- Accountability Report by Internet Freedom Foundation