After summoning country heads of social media companies on Tuesday (March 19), the Election Commission of India said that the players along with industry head Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) will come up with a voluntary “code of ethics”, along the lines of Model Code of Conduct during elections by Wednesday evening (March 20).
Election commissioner Ashok Lavasa said that voluntary restraint is a hallmark of civilised society and works as effectively as any regulation. He suggested that a clear clause on users’ voluntarily agreeing not to misuse social media platforms for election or political purposes should be considered by the management.
The meeting was centered on discussing issues like appointment of dedicated grievance channel for expeditious action by the organizations, pre- certification and transparency in expenditure of political advertisements.
The meeting also focused on evolving a notification mechanism by social media platforms for acting upon the violation of Section 126 of R.P. Act, 1951 and preventing misuse of these platforms. Section 126 prohibits displaying any election matter by means, inter alia, of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency.
Since the meeting was convened on a six-point agenda for the meeting that includes “evolving mechanism by the social media platforms to prevent abuse on their platforms”, the players reportedly made presentations on steps taken to control misuse of the platforms for the upcoming national elections.
Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google, ShareChat and TikTok provided updates on the appointment of dedicated grievance redressal channels to expedite action on problematic content and mechanisms to prevent platform abuse. TikTok told the EC that it does not run advertisements in India and has no official political party accounts on its platform.
EC reportedly expressed concerns about a delay by Google in launching a searchable archive for political advertisements in India. However, Facebook and Twitter have already enforced such political ads library.
Facebook had ruled that an advertiser who wants to run an ad in India related to politics will need to first confirm their identity and location along with details about who placed the ad. It also launched its online searchable Ad Library for anyone to access. This library provides information about the person or group placing the ads.
Twitter brought its Ads Transparency Centre (ATC) to India to allow anyone across the world to view details about twitter ads, with comprehensive details such as ad spend, reach, payment information and targeted demographics.
Google, for its part, has been following Google News Initiative to debunk fake news and recently announced its plans to support journalists covering the elections by training them in partnership with DataLeads and Internews under its Google News Initiative. To be hosted across 30 cities in the next two months, the training will be given in multiple languages.
The seven-phase polls national election will start April 11 and continue till May 19, with vote count scheduled for May 23. However, it is still doubtful if code of ethics, model code of conduct and other such efforts can control the vice of social media abuse by nearly 600 Mn Indians.