With just a few months to go for the largest election in the world, Google India has launched a slate of monitoring and policy initiatives in India in the build up to the Lok Sabha elections that will see Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party contesting to secure a second term in power.
Google plans to bring more transparency to election ads and the company, in a blog post, said that it will introduce an India-specific Political Advertising Transparency Report and searchable Political Ads Library which will be a one stop shop for comprehensive information about who is purchasing election ads on Google’s platforms and for how much.
“In line with this, we have updated the election ads policy for India. The policy requires that advertisers running election ads in India provide a pre-certificate issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI), or anyone authorized by the ECI, for each ad they wish to run. Further, Google will verify the identity of advertisers before their election ads run on our platforms. The advertiser verification process will begin on 14 February 2019,” Google said.
Taking its election initiative a step further, Google said that it will collaborate with Election Commission of India and other authoritative sources to make available information that people will find useful and relevant related to the electoral process.
The India Political Ads Transparency Report and Ads Library will go live in March 2019 – Google India
From first impressions it appears that an initiative such as this is only the second of its kind by Google, who has previously implemented a similar strategy in the US.
Although Google currently has not specified who are the authoritative sources it will collaborate with in India but examples can be found in the US where the search giant has partnered with award winning non-for-profit investigative journalism outlet ProPublica for credible datasets appearing in its search results.
Google has also partnered with Society of Professional Journalists in the US to provide free training on a wide range of Google tools and workflows covering a wide range of topics that include fact checking and online security.
In India, fake news has become a political tool and journalistic outlets are often accused of political patronage and it may well be useful for Google to bring some additional initiatives like the ones above to play a more proactive role. The new ad policy does bring about a much needed change in attitude when it comes to monitoring online ads and election related content that will soon dominate our screens in the months to come.
Social media companies and search giants have come under increased scrutiny of regulators after the US presidential elections in 2016, wherein, according to US security agencies, Russian state actors bought political ads and created pages targeting voters on Facebook in support of Republican Party candidate Donald Trump who was facing off against Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton for the US presidency.
Today, there has been a remarkable realisation among both political and civil class that the online medium can be used in attempts to subvert democracy, which has resulted in these tech giants, who have long propagated self regulation, trying to increasingly take proactive steps to prevent malicious elements to promote their agenda online.