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Need social media norms in run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections: Oxford study

The study says that since 2010, many political parties and governments have spent over half a billion dollars on the research, development, and implementation of psychological operations and public opinion manipulation over the social media.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2018 07:22 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
2019 elections,Social media,Political parties
AI, big data analytics, and ‘blackbox’ algorithms are being used, the study says. (HT File Photo)

India needs to introduce guidelines for the use of social media during the 2019 general elections, according to a study by the University of Oxford that explored formally organised social media manipulation campaigns in 48 countries.

At a time when readers are increasingly consuming news on digital media, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and ‘blackbox’ algorithms are being leveraged to challenge truth and trust, the study by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) said.

The study says that since 2010, many political parties and governments have spent over half a billion dollars on the research, development, and implementation of psychological operations and public opinion manipulation over the social media.

Philip Howard, OII director and co-author of the study titled ‘Challenging Truth and Trust: A Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation’, said India is one of the 48 countries where there is evidence of organised social media manipulation.

“Disinformation campaigns flow over every major social media platform in India,” he said.

“With a big general election coming early in the new year, it is important that election officials come up with some moderate guidelines for social media use during campaigns...” he added.

The study uses the term ‘cyber troops’ to refer to government or political party actors tasked with manipulating public opinion.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is already working on this. According to an ECI official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the poll panel has set up a committee to suggest changes to Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act that bars election campaigning in the last 48 hours before voting. The committee, which is expected to submit its report shortly, also has the mandate to examine how media platforms could be regulated during the 48 hours before voting in a multiphase election.

The commission is also trying to establish a mechanism to prevent fake news from influencing poll outcomes. A senior EC functionary, said earlier this month that the commission wants to put a stop to rampant circulation of fake news.

(Smriti Kak Ramachandran contributed to this story)

First Published: Jul 25, 2018 07:16 IST