Elections 2019: Social Media Giants Commit to a “Code of Ethics” 

All paid political advertisements on social media will have to be vetted by a monitoring committee.

3 min read
Social media has become the strongest tool for political parties for reaching out to people.

Social media platforms have agreed to take down political advertisements during the mandated 48-hour “silence period” before polling ends as well as maintain a dedicated reporting mechanism with the Election Commission of India starting Wednesday right up to the end of polling on 19 May.

These are part of a “Code of Ethics” that social media giants operating in India have collectively agreed to adhere to. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) along with Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok and BigoTV presented it to the Election Commission on Wednesday.

The companies collectively submitted an eight-point ethics code on Wednesday to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, a day after they had met and agreed to come up with a code for the elections to prevent abuse of their platforms during the elections.

According to the “Code of Ethics” released by IAMAI, the purpose is to “safeguard” the platforms “against misuse to vitiate the free and fair character” of the elections as well as to “identify measures” to “increase confidence in the electoral process”. 

Representatives of IAMAI and social media platforms were called by the poll panel on Tuesday, 19 March, to discuss the issue of evolving mechanism to prevent abuse on social media platforms.

The EC also wanted to ensure that the elections are insulated from any outside influence. It had earlier announced that all political advertisements on social media have to be vetted by the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee.

A meeting of Election Commission of India officials with representatives of major social media and texting platforms on Wednesday, 20 March.
A meeting of Election Commission of India officials with representatives of major social media and texting platforms on Wednesday, 20 March.
(Photo courtesy: Sheyphali Sharan/ ECI)

So, What’s in the Code ?

The social media platforms have come up with an 8-point code:

  1. Deploy appropriate policies and procedures to facilitate access to information on electoral matters on their platforms
  2. Undertake campaigns to increase awareness about electoral laws.
  3. The platforms and the ECI have developed a notification mechanism whereby the Commission can notify a platform of violations of the 48-hour “silence period”. The platforms will process these legal requests within 3 hours and take down such content.
  4. The creation of a high priority dedicated channel to interface and exchange feedback with the ECI on lawful requests for content take down.
  5. Provide a mechanism for political advertisers to submit a certificate of approval by the Media Certifiation and Monitoring Committe of the EC.
  6. Provide for transparency in paid political advertisements including utilising their pre-existing labels/ disclosure technology for such advertisements.
  7. Provide updates to the ECI on measures taken by them to prevent abuse of their platforms.
  8. IAMAI will coordinate with the participants and facilitate constant communications with the EC for the duration of the elections.

The meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday were presided by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, who, according to a statement released by the Commission, exhorted social media organisations to come up with a code similar to the Model Code of Conduct for the ongoing election process in the immediate context and a lasting document in the long run.

Sinha Committee Report From Jan Still Not Public

A number of the measures that pertain to preventing misuse of platforms furing the 48-hour “silence period” before end of each phase of polling were based on the recommendations of the Umesh Sinha Committee.

On 10 January, a committee headed by senior deputy election commissioner Umesh Sinha had submitted a report on modifications to Section 126 (the 48-hour ‘silence period’ before polls).

This report contains important observations on the impact of social media and the difficulties in regulating it during the mandatory ‘silence periods’ in multi-phase elections. The report, however, has not been made public by the Election Commission. 

The issues of appointment of dedicated grievance channel for expeditious action by the organisations, pre-certification and transparency in expenditure of political advertisements were also taken up.

Sources later said the Commission insisted that no intermediary should allow political advertisements without the prior approval of certification committees set up in districts.

It was of the view that IMAI should coordinate with intermediaries to periodically monitor cases of violation.

(With inputs from PTI)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!