EC directs X to take down Karnataka BJP’s controversial animated video | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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EC directs X to take down Karnataka BJP’s controversial animated video

May 07, 2024 07:44 PM IST

The controversial video posted on X by the Karnataka BJP’s official handle had more than 9.2 million views and 8,300 retweets as of 6pm on May 7

Less than two hours before polling in 93 constituencies was to end for phase three of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Tuesday instructed X, formerly Twitter, to take down a controversial video posted by BJP Karnataka’s official account on May 4 for violating the extant legal framework. Fourteen parliamentary constituencies in Karnataka also voted on Tuesday.

The Election Commission of India. (File)
The Election Commission of India. (File)

ECI, in its letter to X, cited the notice sent by the Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka through the superintendent of police of the cyber crime division of CID that was sent under Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act and Rule 3(1)(d) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

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“However, the post has not been taken down yet. Therefore, ‘X’ is directed to take down the post immediately,” the communication read.

“The EC has taken a serious note of the non-removal by X of an objectionable post of @BJP4Karnataka, despite a legally valid letter through CEO, Karnataka, including FIR in the matter,” an EC official said on the condition of anonymity.

In its communication to the social media platform, the poll panel also cited the FIR filed by flying squad team (FST) leader Prajwal TR against BJP state president and MLA BY Vijayendra, and the official Twitter handle @BJP4Karnataka. FSTs are responsible for monitoring elections for violations of the model code of conduct and cash seizures. This FIR was filed on May 4 at the Malleshwaram police station in Bengaluru City. The violation by BJP was reported to the assistant returning officer and the state’s MCC nodal officer on Saturday itself.

To be sure, the CEO Karnataka is not empowered to give any takedown orders to any social media platform directly.

The Karnataka CEO’s office had written to the Election Commission on May 5, asking the poll panel to instruct X to take down the post in question, joint CEO Suryasen AV, told HT on Wednesday morning. It simultaneously referred the matter to the superintendent of police, cyber crime division, CID, under Section 79(3)(b) of the IT Act.

“We sent it to the state nodal agency, which is SP, CID, Cyber Crime division under Section 79(3)(b) according to the government order issued by the Karnataka government. We sent it to the EC as well. Both were sent on May 5. We [the CEO’s office] don’t talk to X (formerly Twitter) directly. As per our handbook, we cannot talk to the social media platforms directly,” Suryasen said.

The police’s notice to X, sent on May 5, also attached an email from EC to Twitter. “Further your attention is drawn towards the e-mail communication of Election Commission [dated May 5, 2024]… Election Commission has directed to remove the alleged content from internet as it violates Model Code of Conduct (MCC) enforced during Lok Sabha Elections 2024,” the notice from the police said.

The superintendent of police, cyber crime division, crime investigation department, Bengaluru, was appointed as the state nodal officer for the state of Karnataka under Section 79(3)(b) of the IT Act through a state government order on February 21, 2024.

Under this section and rule 3(1)(d) of the IT Rules, the Karnataka government had designated the SP, cyber crime division, CID; DCP (Crime); and District SP as nodal officers and designated officers “with regard to removal of Unlawful Content in Cyber Space”.

Under the Voluntary Code of Ethics 2019 that most social media platforms are signatories to, only ECI can notify the platforms of violations of Representation of People Act and other electoral laws, and these “valid legal orders will be acknowledged and/or processed within three hours for violations reported under Section 126”.

Section 126 of the RPA prohibits public meetings during a period of 48 hours ending with an hour fixed for conclusion of poll.

“All other valid legal requests will be acted upon expeditiously by the Participants, based on the nature of reported violation,” the VCE says.

“It [communication with X] is not in our hand. We actually report to ECI and ECI will talk to the concerned, Meta, Google or Twitter. …Every day, we send emails to ECI about social media. For print and TV, we talk to them directly. We cannot do that for social media… The email was sent to ECI,” Jadiyappa Gedlagatti, media officer for CEO Karnataka, said.

The 17-second video was posted by @BJP4Karnataka at 5.23pm on May 4 and sought to polarise the electorate on the basis of faith by showing the Congress as appeasing Muslims at the cost of other faiths and castes. It fits in with the narrative the BJP has pushed in recent weeks -- of the Congress scrapping reservation benefits for other backward classes, scheduled tribes and scheduled castes, and transferring these to Muslims.

As of 6pm on May 7, the video was still available and the tweet on X had more than 9.2 million views, 8,300 retweets, 5,100 quote tweets, 4,000 replies, 22,000 likes and 2,600 bookmarks.

Congress had also filed an FIR with Bengaluru Police on May 5 against the BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya, party president JP Nadda and Vijayendra under Section 125 (promoting enmity between classes in connection with election) of the Representation of People Act, and Section 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the IPC.

This is the second video in the last few days from an official social media account of the BJP to attract significant criticism. On May 1, BJP’s official Instagram handle posted an animated video making similar claims, and then took it down.

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