Facebook has offered to remove content flagged by the Election Commission in the final 48 hours before election polling in India. This is the period when the model code of conduct (MCC) is in effect — no political party is allowed to campaign. Indian Express reports that Facebook made the proposal in a meeting with the EC earlier this month. The company also proposed to introduce a pop-up to alert users against posting any election-related matter during the silence period.
A committee, chaired by Umesh Sinha, the deputy election commissioner, was set up in January to suggest changes to Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, which prohibits election campaigning two days before voting. The panel was also tasked with studying the impact of social and new media and recommend modifications to the model code accordingly.
The Indian Express report adds that the panel has now also reached out to YouTube to hear what role that company can play in preventing violations of the model code. No meeting has reportedly taken place with representatives of YouTube yet.
Nikhil adds: Political Parties have been circumventing the model code of conduct by taking advantage of how Facebook user feeds work. A representative of a political party told me a few years ago that they published hundreds of campaign-related posts a few hours before the model code comes into force. This ensures that the post will show up on users timeline even after the campaigning period has ended officially. This happens because the Facebook timeline is not linear. Additionally, other users (party supporters) sharing the posts will amplify its visibility during this period. So Facebook’s challenge will not only be to prevent campaign-related posts from being made during this period but also ensure that older posts don’t show up in users’ News Feeds while the model code of conduct is in effect.
EC’s previous engagements with Facebook
In March, the Election Commission had announced a partnership with Facebook for the Karnataka polls. This announcement surprisingly came a week after it was reported that the Election Commission had taken a “grim view” of Cambridge Analytica incident and the fact that it was exploited to influence polls across the world. Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat indicated that the EC may review its association with the social media giant.
The Election Commission has engaged with Facebook in the past to encourage enrolment for voter ID or encourage voting as well as to publish election results on Facebook.
The EC had 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 January this year, EC had announced a National Voters’ Day pledge feature on the social media platform.
Facebook and election ads
In April, Facebook had announced that it will label all political and issue ads, and include information about who paid for them. It will also mandate verification of identity and location of anyone who wants to run such ads. This announcement takes forward Facebook’s plan to authenticate American political ads, which was announced last October. Now, the measure will be rolled out worldwide for political ads as well as the broader segment of “issue” ads.
Founder Mark Zuckerberg had said in a post that the company will hire many more people to execute the verification. He added, “(these measures) will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads. Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform, and that’s why we support the Honest Ads Act. This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online.”