The Election Commission has decided to maintain vigil over social networking websites, used extensively by politicians to reach out to the voters, and has constituted a dedicated special cell to track candidates' online campaigns.
Now, when the candidates file affidavits, they will have to mention their original social networking site account.
Assistant chief electoral officer Ashok Tomar has said it was necessary that the Election Commission be informed about the "authentic" social media accounts of the candidates.
"Social media websites come under electronic media, so the commission's guidelines would also apply to them. This means that pre-certification becomes mandatory," he added.
The EC will also vet social media expenses, including marketing and advertisement costs, and all expenses would be added to their accounts. "Money spent by a candidate or party on their online branding would be evaluated and added to their election expense account," said Tomar.
Sources in the information technology (IT) industry said that a basic package for 'likes', 'views' and 'hits' on social media websites could cost up to Rs. 3 lakh. "Adding 500 followers on Twitter and 1,000 'likes' on Facebook pages can cost anywhere between Rs. 2 lakh and Rs. 3 lakh," he said.
The EC will check all activities, including content posted on the websites, Tomar said, adding that as per the directions of the EC, the state election commission has formed media certification and monitoring committees (MCMC) on state and district levels.
"This committee will keep a vigil on the working of the print and electronic media, including social media, besides certifying advertisements for printing and publishing," he said.
So far, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its candidates have taken the lead in using online social media as a campaign tool in the state, with the Congress also moving in that direction. Both parties have set up information technology cells.
Facebook and Twitter have several pages belonging to political bigwigs, including chief minister Virbhadra Singh, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, former chief minister Shanta Kumar, BJP's Hamirpur candidate Anurag Thakur and Youth Congress president Vikramaditya Singh. Besides, there are several social media pages administrated by their followers.