Can ECI make social media abide by the Model Code of Conduct?

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The supreme power of the Election Commission of India (ECI) is at its best once the Model Code of Conduct is imposed. Be it the political parties or the bureaucrats, all toe the diktat of the Commission the moment poll dates are announced. The 2014 Lok Sabha General Election was a crackdown on Paid News, which to an extent managed to streamline the system, even though the success of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was attributed to the ‘optimized’ used of Media.

While announcing the Poll dates on March 10, 2019, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora for the first time has mandated that all politicians and political parties must ensure their social media accounts comply with official guidelines on acceptable behaviour. This means that official accounts of political parties and politicians cannot carry political advertisements or content that could influence voters, effective from the moment Code of Conduct.

Also, all political advertisements on social media before the elections will require pre-certification from the EC. They have roped in online giants including Google, Facebook, and Twitter to ensure free and fair elections, and take action on any content reported as a violation by designated officers of the election body.

Although most of the social media giants have taken several measures to reduce the impact of misinformation, and are aware of the damage that fake news can cause to the election process in India, but none has any simple solution to eliminate the impact that misinformation can have on millions of voters.

After facing flak from the government, social media giants are in a huddle and have devised some tools and launched a few initiatives to fight fake news and political bias, in collaboration with the Election Commission of India.

Launching awareness programmes on dangers of fake news, WhatsApp has put a limit to number of forwards to five, and has introduced several other measures.

Micro-blogging site twitter, which earlier faced accusations of being “slow” in removing “objectionable content” and “political bias” from its platform, has started showing billing details of political advertisements as its Ads Transparency Center for the country went live this week.

The ECI is also well aware that the Cyber Cell of the government is still developing its infrastructure and training its personnel and the weak cyber law doesn’t help, whereas the general masses and the social network users stick to their Fundamental Right of Freedom of Expression.

ECL could also take a lesson from the 2016 United States of America’s Presidential Election, where social media played a predominant role in shaping the course of major events which enabled people to have a greater interaction with the political landscape, controversies, and news surrounding the candidates involved.

In case the ECI manages to streamline the social media to abide by the Model Code of Conduct, like it did for the Paid News in 2014 Election, the blue-print of the model should be adopted by the new government after the elections.