Social media giants to draft ethics code for polls

Updated on Mar 20, 2019 07:34 AM IST

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and social media intermediaries on Tuesday agreed to draft a code of ethics for the industry in the next 24 hours after being asked to do so by the Election Commission (EC).

WhatsApp Inc. offers a cross-platform mobile messaging application that allows users to exchange messages. Image for representation.(Bloomberg file photo)
WhatsApp Inc. offers a cross-platform mobile messaging application that allows users to exchange messages. Image for representation.(Bloomberg file photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySmriti Kak Ramachandran and Vidhi Choudhary

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and social media intermediaries on Tuesday agreed to draft a code of ethics for the industry in the next 24 hours after being asked to do so by the Election Commission (EC).

Representatives from IAMAI and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, were called by EC to discuss how to prevent abuse of social media platforms, and reduce outside influence during elections.

According to a statement issued by EC, which will conduct the general election and also assembly polls in four states beginning April 11, the meeting also focused on social media companies evolving a notification mechanism to deal with violations of Section 126 of the Representation of People (RP) Act, 1951 and preventing their misuse.

Section 126 prohibits advertising and campaigning on TV and other electronic media during the silent period, 48 hours before voting.

“The issues of appointment of dedicated grievance channel for expeditious action by the organisations, and pre- certification and transparency in expenditure of political advertisements were taken up,” the EC statement said.

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora told the social media platforms to come up with a code similar to the model code of conduct that comes into effect from the date of the announcement of the elections, which is followed by all parties. He said the code would be used for the ongoing election process in the immediate context, and perhaps even after the elections.

According to a person aware of the developments, the code of ethics is likely to introduce a mechanism using which EC can inform them of violations of Section 126.

A committee set up to examine Section 126 of the RP Act recommended in its report submitted in January that all intermediaries open a special grievance redressal channel for EC and appoint dedicated teams during the elections to take quick action on receipt of a complaint.Objectionable content should be removed or disabled immediately, within an outer limit of three hours, it suggested.

The report also called for intermediaries to send publicly available transparency reports to EC to improve transparency and ensure accountability and for all platforms to only carry political ads pre-approved by the media certification and monitoring committee (MCMC) of EC.

Since January, companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook have been making changes to their advertising policies in India and introducing changes to ensure transparency of political ads posted on their platforms.

Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Google did not respond to queries. Berges Y Malu, policy head, ShareChat, said in an emailed statement: “We reaffirmed our commitment at today’s meeting with CEC and look forward to working with ECI to uphold the integrity and legality of social media campaigns by political parties on our platform.” The regional language social media platform is working with a fact checking agency to rein in fake news.

Rahul Matthan, lawyer, tech-policy expert and author of Privacy 3.0, said, “It’s good to have clarity on what kind of content needs to be taken down. However, given the sheer volume of content being posted by users on social media, I don’t think EC will be able to comprehensively take down everything that violates the election code of conduct. If the instructions are coming from a government official in a position of authority, social media platforms will be obliged to comply. But if the EC expects social media companies to take content down on their own accord, this might be dangerous as it will amount to giving private companies the power of censorship.”

Also read | Man’s attempt to cross the road goes wrong. Social media can’t help but LOL

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