ShareChat, a social media platform that hosts content in 14 Indian languages, said on Wednesday that it has removed more than 487,000 pieces of content and 54,404 accounts since February for violating its community guidelines and terms of use. The company’s announcement came a day before the second phase of India’s general elections. ShareChat is one of 7 social media platforms that met with the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora in March and released a ‘voluntary code of ethics‘ for the elections.

Largest cull yet, says ShareChat

Of the pieces of content removed, 13,195 were from ShareChat’s politics and news section, the company said, and 6,431 factually inaccurate pieces of content were taken down by a third-party fact-checking agency NewsChecker.in. The removal of over 54,000 accounts was its largest cull yet, ShareChat said. It targeted accounts that “shared harmful or abusive content, engaged in disruptive behaviour and used the platform in a way that violated its terms of use”. In January, ShareChat had banned 50,000 profiles to keep pornographic, violent and fake content off of its platform. However, the company had refused to disclose which languages the 50,000 users were spread across, or how many accounts were flagged by other users.

Platforms’ preparations for elections

  • Facebook said earlier this month that it had removed 687 pages and accounts linked to the Congress party, and 15 pages, groups and accounts linked to Silver Touch, an Ahmedabad-based IT firm that created the Narendra Modi app, for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. In March, the company put all political ads on its platform in India in a searchable online library. It contains contact information of the ad buyers and their official certificates, which have to match their government-issued documents.
  • Google has also created such a library, which it made public earlier this month. It revealed that 10 advertisers political parties including the TDP, BJP, and Congress spent a cumulative Rs 3.7 crore on 831 ads on Google.
  • Earlier this month, WhatsApp launched ‘Checkpoint Tipline’ with media startup Proto to verify suspicious information and rumours on WhatsApp during the elections. Users can send rumours to the number (+91-9643-000-888) which Proto will classify as true, false, misleading, disputed or out of scope or any other related information. Proto later clarified that the tipline was, in fact, not meant for verifying false information but it would use the messages received on the tipline for research and to study the nature of fake news on WhatsApp.
  • In February, Twitter joined Facebook and Google by launching advertiser verification and an ‘Ads Transparency Center’ in India to increase transparency around advertising during the elections. The policy came into effect on March 11 and meant that political advertisers would have to be verified before they could buy ads on Twitter.
  • In March, TikTok announced that its Safety Centre web page had been updated to include a section on India’s general elections. In it, TikTok asks users to “continue to use platform in a respectful and responsible way”, refrain from uploading or sharing unlawful content and report any such content using the Election Commission of India’s cVIGIL app.

Code of ethics for Lok Sabha elections

In March, social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Google, WhatsApp, ShareChat, TikTok, BigoTV and the IAMAI agreed to a voluntary code of ethics to abide by during the Lok Sabha Elections. The code came into effect on March 20, and will remain in force throughout the elections. A summary of what the platforms agreed to:

  • Notification mechanism for ECI to report violations to platforms: The platforms developed a notification mechanism for the ECI to legally notify them of potential violations of Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and other electoral laws. The notification system for Google is a Google webform; a legal submissions portal page for Twitter; and an email address for ShareChat and Facebook.
  • Action within 3 hours for violations of 48-hour silent period: For reported violations of Section 126 of the RP Act – which prohibits political parties and candidates from campaigning in the two days before voting – platforms will acknowledge and/ or process these legal orders within 3 hours (as per the Sinha Committee recommendations). For other legal requests, platforms will act upon them “expeditiously” based on the nature of reported violation.
  • Platforms committed to “creating/opening a high priority dedicated reporting mechanism” for the ECI and “appoint dedicated person(s)/teams” during elections to contact and exchange feedback for acting upon legal requests from the ECI.
  • Pre-certification for political advertisers: The code requires platforms to provide a method for political advertisers to submit pre-certificates issued by ECI or its Media Certification & Monitoring Committee (MCMC) for running election-related ads. It requires that platforms “expeditiously” act on paid political ads which do not have a certification, as the ECI notifies. “Platforms will commit to facilitating transparency in paid political advertisements, including utilising their pre-existing labels/disclosure technology for such advertisements,” states the code.
  • Communication between the ECI, IAMAI, and platforms: Platforms will update the ECI (via the IAMAI) on measures they have taken to prevent abuse of their platforms, pursuant to legal requests by the ECI. IAMAI will coordinate with platforms on the steps carried out under this Code, the industry body and the platforms will be in “constant communication” with the ECI during the election period. “Participants will deploy appropriate policies and processes to facilitate access to information regarding electoral matters on their products and/or services…” reads the code.
  • Awareness and education campaigns: The members will carry out information, education and communication campaigns to build awareness including electoral laws and other related instructions.
  • Training nodal officers: Platforms will train their nodal officers to the ECI on their products, and on the mechanism for sending requests to the platforms as per procedure established by law.