The Election Commission of India (ECI) on March 19, 2019 had in-depth interactive session with representatives of various Social Media platforms and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) on the usage of social media ahead of the Lok Sabha elections 2019. Social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, agreed on the next day to process any request from the Election Commission to take down content within three hours during the 48-hour period before the voting days.
The agreement was arrived at during a meeting between the Election Commission and Internet companies as part of a conduct code for the staggered seven phase Lok Sabha elections starting on April 11 and also for the future. This agreement will surely be a model in the world, which can show that media professionals too are responsible citizens while maintaining the freedom of the press. IAMAI and Social Media intermediaries willingly agreed to come up with a ‘Code of Ethics’ for the industry, laying down operational details.
The meeting focused on discussing issues like appointment of dedicated grievance channel for expeditious action by the organizations, pre- certification and transparency in expenditure of political advertisements. The meeting also focused on evolving a notification mechanism by social media platforms for acting upon the violations of Section 126 of R.P. Act, 1951 and preventing misuse of these platforms.
It may be mentioned that the Judiciary along with the Executive have always been dispensing their respective responsibilities in maintaining day to day affairs and law and order, whereas certain people with vested interests have used the ‘Freedom of Expression’ clause in the Information Technologies Act to get away with posting sensitive material that has caused communal discord. The said meeting between the ECI and the representatives of various social media platforms and internet will surely pave the way towards ironing out various conflicts of interest.
As mentioned earlier, 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, no one 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 ECI.
The ECI could also take a lesson from the Presidential elections of 2016 in America 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 get the social media to abide by the Model Code of Conduct, like it did for the Paid News in the 2014 elections, the blue-print of the model should be adopted by the new government after the elections to fight fake news throughout its tenure and not just during the elections.
This also means that social media can be made safe for young and inquisitive minds provided enough efforts are put in. It will be great if social media platforms can be restored to their original intended use for interaction between people and collaboration on research and science across the globe while preventing the spread of propaganda and disharmony.