No dilution of existing election regulations for social media: ECI
The commission was responding to a report published in HT in collaboration with The Intersection, in which Facebook claimed it had negotiated with the statutory poll body to avoid “onerous” legal obligations in regard to taking down poll-related content
Social media companies will have to follow the voluntary code of ethics that the Election Commission of India had introduced ahead of the 2019 general elections, and there will be no dilution of existing rules and regulation, the election watchdog said in a statement on Monday.
The commission was responding to a report published in HT in collaboration with The Intersection, in which Facebook claimed it had negotiated with the statutory poll body to avoid “onerous” legal obligations in regard to taking down poll-related content.
“ECI’s committee headed by Mr (Umesh) Sinha consisted of all important stakeholders. However, social media companies were neither members or signatories,” the commission said in its statement. “The Committee was set up by the ECI for the overall review of the provisions of section 126 of the RP Act, keeping in view the advent, advancement and multifid increase in media mode and its impact on election campaigning. It made a set of recommendations… (and) included the need for some guidelines for intermediaries operating in India and a stringent and dedicated mechanism for promptly taking down posts violating section 126.”
Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibits election campaigning by any means 48 hours before voting takes place.
Referring to all the social media companies that agreed to sign the voluntary code of ethics, the commission said that “Facebook was only one of the attendees along with other important social media intermediaries… (such as) Twitter, Google, YouTube, Sharechat and representatives of IAMAI.” IAMAI is short for Internet and Mobile Association of India, an industry grouping.
“Rather the VCE (voluntary code of ethics) was in force for not only the silence period but for the entire period of the model code of conduct for the parliamentary elections,” the statement said. The practice has been continued in all polls held since.
The commission never stopped any law agency from taking against social media companies for violation of extant laws and regulations relating to social media, the statement said. “Therefore, it becomes clear that the VCE was only an additional dedicated code for grievance redressal for violative posts.”
HT and The Intersection on Monday reported that internal Facebook documents state that in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, the company managed to convince the commission to scuttle its original intention of introducing stiff social media regulations and settle for a voluntary code of ethics, avoiding additional legal obligations.
This included banning political advertisements in the two days preceding polling. The social media company fronted the IAMAI to push its view and achieve consensus over the rules, showed Facebook’s internal documents spirited out of the company by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former employee and data scientist.