The Election Commission has confirmed its partnership with Facebook for the Karnataka Assembly polls, saying that Social Media is a reality, but precautions will be taken.

The Election Commission has engaged with Facebook in the past to encourage enrolment for voter ID or encourage voting as well as Facebook reporting election results.

The EC has also partnered with Facebook on three different occasions in the last year to encourage Facebook users, specifically young people, to register themselves as voters.

In 2017, as part of one such collaborative effort, Facebook sent voter registration reminders in 13 Indian languages to all its users in the country for four days, from July 1 to 4. In November last year, all Facebook users who were going to turn 18, got a “birthday wish” on their birthday along with a reminder encouraging them to register with the EC to vote.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica row, there has been growing concern about the use of Social Media to influence elections. Even as Mark Zuckerberg swept into damage control mode, the Election Commission of India was caught on the back foot with questions about its partnership with Facebook for elections and responded with what is now a typical response to data security concerns in India, this time about data of voters being used to influence them, with reports of the relevant organization taking the reports seriously, assertions that no harm was done, news of the suspect access being reconsidered, announcements of efforts to review implications, additional relevant information coming to light and finally, an announcement return to the status quo and dismissal of concerns – all with no factual information being provided to justify any step taken.

MediaNama’s take

The Indian establishment persists in thinking of the security of data in terms of a database being breached as some specific event – probably where the database can be accessed directly without the methods provided. However, data security is a far bigger issue and it is more complex than the data contained in a server. Facebook does not need to have Voter ID lists to influence voters. A large number of voters could be targeted directly based on their Facebook profile information itself without requiring any information from the Election Commission. A limited definition of the dangers of data exploitation can only result in limited security, leaving the system open to manipulation.

Another key concern is that should Facebook be a platform so heavily engaged in the electoral process? Partnership with the Election Commission gives it a badge of legitimacy that might be exploited by malicious players on the platform, of which there are plenty.