WhatsApp comes under Election Commission scanner

  • Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Nov 15, 2014 01:00 IST

The popular free messaging service WhatsApp will come under the Election Commission's scanner for messages that can disturb tranquillity of polls, especially with regard to hate speeches that was flavour of the recently conducted general elections.

The poll watchdog has brought the messages circulated through the messaging service under regulation on electoral violation and have instructed directions to district officials in two poll-bound states Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand to keep a tap on WhatsApp messages.

The active users in WhatsApp had grown from about 20 million in August 2013 to 70 million - one-tenth of its total users in the world - in November 2014, according to portal statista.com.

In a first, the Election Commission has directed the chief secretaries of the two states to ensure that a complaint is registered in a police station for obnoxious material on social media including the free messaging services during the poll period.

It has also asked them to direct the service providers to block circulation of such messages if they vitiate the electoral level playing field. The EC have earlier told internet companies that they will have to remove the "objectionable" content on direction of its officials.

The poll-watchdog will also take cognisance of such complaints if evidence is provided for violation of the model code and other provisions of the Representation of People's Act (RPA). The EC can direct the district administration for registration of a case against those who had generated the message and circulate them.

The decisions adds another feather in the cap of the EC as the internet based free messaging service would be covered under elections rules for the first time. Earlier, only the social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter were covered.

Chief election commissioner VS Sampath on Thursday said that action to block WhatsApp messages and other material on social media will be taken whenever there is complaint. "We will try our best to ensure that new media does not disturb the electoral process in any way," he added.

The EC's decision came after a number of political parties complained that WhatsApp and other free messaging services has become a new mode of electioneering and was being used to polarise voters by delivering hate speeches.

The commission before this summer's general elections had issued guidelines for social media websites and instructed the internet companies to comply with its directions. However, official admit that monitoring and compliance to the EC guidelines was a "tough" task.

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