The country will soon witness elections and social media is going to play a role, unlike the earlier notion that it won’t. While political parties are creating a presence, investing money and fueling controversies on social media, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has a tough task to ensure that social media and online platforms won’t be used to breach the code of conduct that governs candidates and political parties.
Keeping this in mind, a fortnight ago ECI called for a meeting with websites on November 18 to discuss the use of social media by political parties and candidates in the ongoing five-state elections. The companies that have been called for the meeting are Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Ebay and Rediff.com.
Rahul Sharma, Under Secretary in the Election Commission, had written to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) to coordinate the meeting and inform the respective companies.
The meeting took place last week, wherein the ECI has directed the social media companies to cooperate in monitoring content. It is understood that the ECI has asked to set up a mechanism that would help prevent the posting of material that has the potential of vitiating the election atmosphere.
Additionally, the companies will also need to make sure that any advertising they carry conforms to the rules. In other words the social media companies should do a pre-certification of advertisement on web/social media (clearance of political advertisement by a committee before being displayed on social media/web by any registered party or by any group or association.)
While the ECI is very well aware that monitoring and tracking content on social media is not easy, the body is trying to cover as much ground possible. To make things easier, the commission has classified social media in five types — collaborative projects such as Wikipedia; blogs and micro blogs such as Twitter; content communities such as Google-owned YouTube; social networking sites such as Facebook; and games and apps.
Revealing more about the meeting Subho Roy, President of IAMAI shared that, “The meeting we attended was a sensitizing meeting on the model code of conduct with some legal and corporate affairs representatives of internet companies who are members of IAMAI.”
Shubho further added that, “The Election Commission representatives explained to us the model code of conduct, its importance during the last 48 hours of the election, the pre-certified advertisements and why they were important in accounting of the candidate’s expenses. They also wanted to understand from us what are the current methods of removing illegal content from websites under existing laws. The Election Commission also assured us that at no point there would be any attempt to censor social media.”
The moves made by ECI are rational but it would be interesting to observe how successfully the social media companies carry out the directives stated by ECI.