Ahead of the state elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has reportedly sent letters to the social media companies including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google, ShareChat and ByteDance, via IAMAI, to follow the voluntary code of ethics, reports The Economic Times. This ‘voluntary’ code of ethics was formulated and adopted by the companies during Lok Sabha elections 2019.

According to the report, ECI has directed “all social media intermediaries under the umbrella of IAMAI” to follow the voluntary code of ethics for “all future elections”. The companies have also been asked to send their agreement with the rule. We have reached out to IAMAI, Twitter, Facebook and Google for comments and will update this when we hear from them. ShareChat and WhatsApp have declined to comment.

Although the ECI hasn’t announced the election dates, the 5-year terms of state assemblies in Haryana and Maharashtra are set to end in November 2019, Jharkhand in January 2020 and Delhi in February 2020, per the report.

ECI and social media cos had come up code of ethics for Lok Sabha Elections

In a meeting with the social media firms, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had then asked the companies to set up a code similar to the Model Code of Conduct for the Lok Sabha 2019 election “in the immediate context” and “a last document in the long run”.

The code which came into effect on March 20 prior to the Lok Sabha polls included:

  1. Notification mechanism for ECI to report violations to platforms: Platforms have 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; an email address for ShareChat and Facebook, per the Indian Express. Company officials said that they are yet to train the ECI on how to use their notification systems.
  2. 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 the reported violation.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Awareness and education campaigns: The members will carry out information, education and communication campaigns to build awareness including electoral laws and other related instructions.
  7. 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 the procedure established by law.