Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections scheduled between April and May this year, a committee formed by the Election Commission (EC) has sought amendments to the law, aimed at preventing social media and other digital platforms from carrying political advertisements on their platform 48 hours before the elections.
The committee led by senior deputy election commissioner, Umesh Sinha, recently submitted its report to the commission that suggests modifications in the provisions of Section 126 and other sections of the Representation of the People Act 1951, including provisions of Model Code of Conduct.
According to the press statement issued by the EC, it has identified “difficulties/critical gaps to regulate the violation of the said provisions of the act, particularly during the prohibitory period of 48 hours before the completion of the poll, and suggested necessary amendments.”
While Section 126 of the Representation of People Act prevents electronic media and print media from carrying political advertisements before elections, social media was out of the purview from the prohibition rules.
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Thus the committee suggested regulating social media platforms during the prohibitory period of 48 hours before the multiphase elections.
The modification in the Act will “help in minimising the possible interference of activities which aim at indirectly influencing voters during the valuable silence period of 48 hours provided to them,” the committee opines.
The commission had ordered pre-certification of all political advertisements during the last 48 hours following a newspaper advertisement that appeared during the Bihar Assembly elections in October-November 2015.
Prior to submitting its report, the committee said to have held detailed consultations with all major stakeholders including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and Google.
After this consultation, Google India launched its election policy initiative — The India Political Ads Transparency Report and Ads Library — aimed at bringing more transparency to election ads. The company has announced to launch the initiative in March 2019.
According to Google India, the initiative will contain comprehensive information about who is purchasing election ads on its platforms and for how much, etc. The company has also announced that it will start verifying the identity of advertisers before running their election ads on its platforms, come February 14, 2019.
Meanwhile, social media company Facebook has also announced measures to prevent abuse of its platform during the elections.